The Central Zone of the Limpopo belt in southern Africa has previously been interpreted as a segment of Archaean crust which experienced its main deformation and metamorphism around 2.7 Ga ago. We report new single zircon U/Pb and Pb/Pb ages for granitoid gneisses, supracrustal rocks and anatectically derived granitic melt patches in the area around Messina, South Africa. The Sand River Gneiss is a composite suite of tonalitic to trondhjemitic rocks with protolith ages between 2.6 and 3.2 Ga. The Singelele gneiss, a heterogeneous granodioritic to quartz monzonitic rock, has protolith ages between 2.55 and 2.58 Ga. Since both the Sand River and Singelele gneisses experienced polyphase high-strain ductile deformation this must have occurred later than 2.55 Ga ago.

Granulite-facies pelitic gneisses of the Beit Bridge Complex contain abundant spherical, multifacetted zircons which reflect new zircon growth near or at the peak of metamorphism. These zircons provide ages with a mean at 2026.5±6.3 Ma which is interpreted as reflecting a high PT event (>10 kbar, 825±25°C). Granitic melt patches in the metapelites as well as in the Sand River Gneiss and anatectic granites are probably related to rapid near-isothermal decompression to below 3–5 kbar and 600–750°C). These rocks contain new magmatic zircons which yielded a mean age of 2005.6±4.4 Ma and probably reflect a crustal melting event resulting from rehydration of the granulitic assemblage.

Our zircon data support previous suggestions for only one single granulite-facies event in the Central Zone, and we suggest that this event occurred c. 2027 Ma ago. Since most of the deformation seen in the gneisses of the Messina area must have occurred later than 2.55 Ga ago, it is likely that the ‘Limpopo Orogeny’, at least in the Central Zone, is not an Archaean event but took place in the early Proterozoic.

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