The ~3.22 Ga Moodies Group, Barberton Greenstone Belt (BGB), South Africa, provides a unique window into Archaean sedimentary, magmatic and ecological processes. In the central BGB, a regional mafic complex, consisting of a genetically related major mafic sill, a peperitic dyke stockwork, and extensive basaltic lava flows affected thick quartzose sandstones of the Moodies Group. We argue that epithermal hydrothermalism associated with this magmatic event occurred, at least in part, syndepositionally and in places destroyed, in other places preserved the abundant benthic microbial mats in terrestrial- and coastal-facies sandstone of this unit. We differentiate four principal types of hydrothermal alteration: (1) Sericitization resulted from ubiquitous feldspar breakdown; (2) iron-oxide alteration replaced the original matrix by fine-grained iron oxide; (3) silicification replaced matrix and most non-silica grains by microcrystalline silica and locally preserved kerogenous microbial mats; and (4) hydraulic fracturing at shallow depth brecciated consolidated Moodies Group sandstone and created closely spaced, randomly oriented fractures and quartz-filled veins. Because stockwork intrusion locally interacted with unconsolidated water-saturated sediment and because the dykes connect the sill with the mafic lava but also follow zones of structural weakness, we suggest that hydrothermalism associated with this magmatic event occurred syndepositionally but was also – within the resolution of radiometric age data – contemporaneous with tight regional folding. We conclude that microbial organisms in Paleoarchaean coastal (tidal, estuarine) environments may have been formerly widespread, possibly even abundant, but are nearly nowhere preserved because they were easily degradable. Preservation of Early Archaean microbial mats in a thermal aureole in the central BGB was controlled by the “just right” degree of heating and very early hydrothermal silicification.

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