The Palaeoproterozoic sandstones and quartzites of the Pretoria Group (Transvaal Supergroup) in the Transvaal Basin of South Africa are important markers for regional correlations and dating of events of global importance (e.g., the Great Oxidation Event). The succession has few independent age markers, and much of the discussion about the time of deposition and the source of material of these rocks has been based on data from detrital zircon suites.

The clastic sedimentary rocks of the Pretoria Group contain detrital zircon grains ranging from the Mesoarchaean to ages that are near-contemporaneous to, and even younger than the overlying and crosscutting igneous rocks of the Bushveld Complex. We show that the U-Pb age and Lu-Hf isotope distributions of the detrital zircon population in the Pretoria Group are the result of three different types of processes, acting successively: (1) Crystallisation in the igneous or metamorphic protosource rock (i.e., the rock where the zircon originally crystallised), (2) Metamorphic and hydrothermal resetting of the U-Pb chronometer induced by emplacement and crystallisation of the 2 055 Ma Bushveld Complex, and (3) Late, low-temperature processes (e.g., weathering).

Critical age markers of maximum ages of deposition obtained after excluding effects of (2) and (3) are the 2 200 Ma Magaliesberg Formation (outside of the Bushveld aureole) and the 2 080 to 2 100 Ma Lakenvalei Formation. The Leeuwpoort Formation is a worst-case example, containing both young (<2 200 Ma) unmodified detrital zircon and hydrothermally altered zircon in the same age range. The two can only be distinguished from trace element analyses.

Age distributions of Archaean and early Palaeoproterozoic zircon age fractions overlap with detrital zircon age suites in lower (i.e., pre-Timeball Hill Formation) parts of the Transvaal Supergroup, suggesting recycling within the basin or from the basin margin. Overlaps in 2 200 to 2 350 Ma zircon ages with those of volcanogenic zircon in the Timeball Hill Formation again suggest recycling. The origin of 2 080 to 2 150 Ma zircon is uncertain, but neither poorly constrained sources in the Kaapvaal Craton (e.g., Okwa Basement Complex) nor recycling of volcanogenic material from post-Magaliesberg formations can be ruled out.

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