Life on a Mesoarchean marine shelf – insights from the world’s oldest known granular iron formation

Albertus J.B. Smith, Nicolas J. Beukes, Jens Gutzmer, Clark M. Johnson, Andrew D. Czaja, Noah Nhleko, Frikkie de Beer, Jakobus W. Hoffman, Stanley M. Awramik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The Nconga Formation of the Mesoarchean (~2.96–2.84 Ga) Mozaan Group of the Pongola Supergroup of southern Africa contains the world’s oldest known granular iron formation. Three dimensional reconstructions of the granules using micro-focus X-ray computed tomography reveal that these granules are microstromatolites coated by magnetite and calcite, and can therefore be classified as oncoids. The reconstructions also show damage to the granule coatings caused by sedimentary transport during formation of the granules and eventual deposition as density currents. The detailed, three dimensional morphology of the granules in conjunction with previously published geochemical and isotope data indicate a biogenic origin for iron precipitation around chert granules on the shallow shelf of one of the oldest supracratonic environments on Earth almost three billion years ago. It broadens our understanding of biologically-mediated iron precipitation during the Archean by illustrating that it took place on the shallow marine shelf coevally with deeper water, below-wave base iron precipitation in micritic iron formations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10519
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Multidisciplinary


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