Archaean zircons from the Kaapvaal Craton, South Africa, were analyzed by Laser Ablation (LA)-ICP-MS to obtain a coupled record of U-Th-Pb isotope ratios and selected trace elements with the aim to develop insights into physico-chemical conditions during igneous zircon crystallization and subsequent compositional alteration. Four rock samples previously dated by SIMS U-Pb using zircon were selected: 3.56 Ga Ngwane Gneiss, 3.55 Ga Theespruit felsic metavolcanic, 3.50 Ga Steynsdorp Gneiss and 2.98 Ga Nhlangano Gneiss. LA-ICP-MS U-Pb zircon ages agree with published SIMS U-Pb ages within analytical uncertainty. Assessment of the magmatic crystallization histories was based on near-concordant grains, and discordant grains were used to examine post-igneous element mobilization and alteration. Time-resolved laser drilling experiments allowed distinction of concordant and discordant zircon domains, but also revealed systematic changes in REE + Ti geochemistry, U + Th content, discordance and metamictization. Th/U and Zr/Hf, coupled with REE patterns, effectively distinguish compositional zircon types that reflect variable degrees of igneous differentiation and melt compositions. Eu/Eu* values indicate significant feldspar fractionation in some magmas. Averaged crystallization temperatures of magmatic zircons, as derived from the Ti-in-zircon thermometer, define a narrow range of 650 to 750°C for (near-)concordant grains, consistent with general constraints on temperatures at zircon saturation for felsic magmas, and testifying to a closed-system behavior of Ti (and other trace elements). Systematic deviations from primary igneous trace element signatures are strongly correlated with radiation damage. Specifically, Th/U and, to some extent, Zr/Hf decrease, and Ti increases with increasing U (+Th) content and isotopic disturbance (discordance).

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