The exceptional gold mineralisation in quartz pebble conglomerates of the Witwatersrand Basin is attributed to a combination of factors. These factors are linked to the co-evolution of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and biosphere, at a very specific time in Archaean geological history and the evolution of the Kaapvaal Craton. Following craton stabilisation and its subaerial emergence, intense chemical weathering and erosion of large volumes of granitoid-greenstone basement released detrital and dissolved gold. Shallow-marine reworking in a long-lived and slowly subsiding basin subjected to episodic compressional deformation and relative sea-level oscillations led to sedimentary concentration of detrital gold. The interaction between acidic, anoxic, and sulfurous surface runoff and more oxidizing marine waters in a near-coastal oxygen oasis supported microbially mediated diagenetic pyrite formation and incorporation of dissolved gold in the pyrite crystal lattice. Erosion and reworking of diagenetic pyrite gave rise to detrital pyrite that characterise most reefs. Abundance of detrital uraninite in conglomerates, derived from erosion of Mesoarchaean granites, and episodes of hydrocarbon migration through sedimentary strata during deep burial set the scene for further enhancement of gold grades in the reefs. Granular and seam pyro-bitumen formed by radiation-induced polymerisation of hydrocarbons around detrital uraninite. Gold dissolved in migrating hydrothermal fluids was then reduced and precipitated upon interaction with the reef pyro-bitumen during hydrothermal placer modification.

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