U–Pb and Lu–Hf signatures of detrital zircon from conglomerates and sandstones of the Ordovician Natal Group, South Africa were determined using laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. The basal conglomerates are dominated by Palaeo- to Mesoarchaean detrital zircon with εHf values from +3 to −4 with minor Mesoproterozoic input, indicating a proximal source in the Kaapvaal Craton and minor input from rocks of the Natal Sector of the Mesoproterozoic Namaqua–Natal Province. The sandstones are all dominated by a combination of juvenile Mesoproterozoic zircon and Neoproterozoic zircon derived from Mesoproterozoic rocks that were reworked during the Pan-African Orogeny. Several sedimentary sequences from former Gondwana with Neoproterozoic to Permian depositional ages show similar detrital zircon signatures. Sedimentary sequences of such vast temporal and geographical distribution are unlikely to have been fed by a single source, making it more likely that these sequences were fed by several different (Pan-Gondwana) source terranes with closely similar U–Pb and Lu–Hf zircon signatures. The results show that source terrane non-uniqueness can make ascertaining sedimentary provenance from detrital zircon impossible, and should be taken as a reminder when using detrital zircon as evidence for far-reaching conclusions in basin evolution studies and palaeogeography.

Supplementary materials:

U–Pb and Lu–Hf data are available at http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18880.

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