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Journal of the Geological Society, London, Vol. 159, 2002, pp. 189201. Printed in Great Britain.

Archaean oil migration in the Witwatersrand Basin of South Africa

Centre for Global Metallogeny, Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Western Australia,
35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia
Present Address: Department of Geology and Geophysics, Grant Institute, University of Edinburgh,
Edinburgh, EH9 3JW, UK (e-mail:
Abstract: The Late Archaean Witwatersrand Supergroup of South Africa hosts the largest known
gold-uranium-pyrite ore deposits. Oil preserved in uid inclusions in quartz grains in siliciclastic
sedimentary rocks of that supergroup implies that hydrocarbon generation and migration occurred during
the Archaean, and may have been involved in mineralization processes. Through reference to Phanerozoic
analogues, oil-bearing uid inclusions entrapped in healed microfractures in detrital quartz grains and in
early syntaxial quartz-overgrowths imply, that the onset of oil migration coincided with early to
intermediate stages of burial, while intra-granular porosity was still preserved. Multiple generations of oil
migration are indicated by: (i) oil inclusions within early diagenetic cements at dierent levels in the
stratigraphic succession; (ii) more than one type of oil in entrapment sites; (iii) oil entrapment in multiple
stages of the quartz paragenetic sequence. Oil generation and migration are considered to have occurred
throughout, and for some considerable time after, development of the Witwatersrand Basin, consistent
with progressive burial and kerogen maturation in more than one tectonic regime. Oil-bearing uid
inclusions within detrital sandstone fragments suggest that oil migration also occurred in a sedimentary
succession on the Kaapvaal Craton prior to 2.9 Ga. Oil in the Witwatersrand Supergroup was most likely
derived from multiple source areas, with the principal source probably being shales within the lower
Witwatersrand Supergroup. The hydrocarbon migration history of the basin has important implications
for understanding the textural relationship between gold, bituminized oil and uraninite in the giant
gold-uranium-pyrite ore deposits.
Keywords: Witwatersrand, gold, uraninite, hydrocarbons, uid inclusions.
Conglomerate- and sandstone-hosted gold-uranium-pyrite ore
deposits of the Witwatersrand in South Africa have provided
nearly 40% of world gold production over the whole span of
recorded history (Pretorius 1991), although previous estimates
have suggested a proportion as high as 55% (Pretorius 1976).
In all its statistics, whether tonnes of ore mined, tonnes of gold,
uranium and even pyrite produced, depth and areal extent
of mining, or number of mines, the Witwatersrand ranks
unreservedly as giant and of unparalleled economic signi-
cance. The ore-deposits, their host sedimentary units and the
four depositional basins to those successions (Dominion,
Witwatersrand, Ventersdorp, Transvaal) are also of great
geological interest. Of particular interest here is that three of
the successions (Witwatersrand, Ventersdorp, Transvaal) pre-
serve evidence for the migration and trapping of oil during the
Late Archaean.
Notwithstanding the long and continuing debate on the
origin of the gold, uranium and pyrite mineralization, the
origin of bituminous nodules and seams within the ore deposits
(or reefs), and particularly within the Late Archaean
Witwatersrand Supergroup, has also long been a source of
controversy (Pretorius 1991; Gray et al. 1998). Early investi-
gators (e.g., Young 1917) recognized bitumen (referred to then
as carbon) as having a strong spatial relationship with gold,
uraninite and pyrite. There was, however no detailed research
on the origin of bitumen until the 1950s and 1960s (e.g.,
Davidson & Bowie 1951; Liebenberg 1955; Ramdohr 1958;
Snyman 1965). The two principal hypotheses on the origin of
the bitumen are that it is either: (i) the fossil remains of in situ
algae which colonized sediment surfaces (Snyman 1965;
Hallbauer 1975; Zumberge et al. 1981; Ebert et al. 1990);
or (ii) the residual product of migrating liquid hydrocarbons
(Liebenberg 1955; Schidlowski 1981; Parnell 1996; Buick
et al. 1998; Gray et al. 1998). While the hypothesis of a
syngenetic algal residue was prominent during the 1970s and
1980s, more-recent organic-geochemical, stable-isotopic and
petrographic studies (Gray et al. 1998; Robb et al. 1999;
Spangenberg & Frimmel 2001) support the hypothesis that
bitumen originated from migrating hydrocarbons. Bituminous
nodules are interpreted to have formed by the polymerization
and crosslinking of liquid hydrocarbons around irradiating
detrital heavy-mineral grains (principally uraninite) in the host
sedimentary rock (Liebenberg 1955; Schidlowski 1981).
Although most recent studies agree that the formation of
bituminous nodules in Witwatersrand (and Ventersdorp and
Transvaal-Black Reef) ore deposits involved migrating hydro-
carbons, the timing of oil migration and the mechanism by
which oil entered reef systems remain unclear. Whereas some
investigators consider that hydrocarbon migration occurred
during early burial and was focused into horizons that retained
primary porosity (Buick et al. 1998; England et al. 2001),
others have suggested that the major conduit for oil migration
was fracture-dominant secondary porosity that post-dated
occlusion of primary porosity by burial quartz cementation
and pressure solution (Robb et al. 1997; Gray et al. 1998;
Parnell 1999). Some authors have suggested also that hydro-
carbon generation and migration occurred during deposition
of the Transvaal Supergroup (Robb et al. 1997; Drennan et al.
1999), some 180270 million years after deposition of the
Witwatersrand Supergroup.
Liquid hydrocarbon inclusions have been identied recently
within authigenic quartz cements in mineralized conglomerates
from the Witwatersrand (Dutkiewicz et al. 1998). Similar
oil-bearing uid inclusions in quartz, carbonate and feldspar
cements from Phanerozoic reservoir rocks (Burruss 1981; Lisk
& Eadington 1994; Parnell et al. 1998) are used commonly to
constrain the timing of hydrocarbon migration relative to
cement paragenesis. By analogy, this paper focuses on the
petrographic and stratigraphic distribution of oil-bearing uid
inclusions in the Witwatersrand Supergroup, the Ventersdorp
Contact Reef at the base of the Ventersdorp Supergroup,
and the Black Reef at the base of the Transvaal Supergroup.
The study examines: (i) the timing and mechanisms for oil
migration in the Witwatersrand Basin, in relation to both
quartz cementation history and basin evolution and (ii) the
relationship between oil migration and the formation of
bitumen nodules and gold mineralization. The results indicate
that processes of oil generation and migration, and their
timing relative to burial history, have not changed since the
Geological setting
The Witwatersrand Supergroup is the structural remnant of
what was originally a more extensive succession deposited
within the central portions of the Kaapvaal Craton of South
Africa (Fig. 1). The Supergroup is an approximately 75 km
thick succession of mudrock, sandstone and minor conglom-
erate that was deposited some time between 309 and 271 Ga
(Armstrong et al. 1991). The original Witwatersrand Basin is
considered to have been similar in geotectonic setting to
modern retroarc (foreland) basins (Burke et al. 1986), such as
those east of the American Cordillera (e.g., Rocky Mountains
and Andean Foreland Basins). According to Winter (1987),
the Witwatersrand Supergroup can be divided into: (i) a lower
marine-inuenced deltaic stage (West Rand Group) and (ii) an
upper uviodeltaic stage (Central Rand Group). The older
Dominion Group is considered to record a back-arc basin that
predated the Witwatersrand Basin by at least 100 million
years. The Dominion Reef, a siliciclastic succession at the base
of the Dominion Group, is a uraninite-pyrite ore-deposit with
low gold content.
Compressive deformation associated with the Limpopo
Orogeny is considered to have produced synsedimentary
thrust- and wrench-faulting of the West Rand and Central
Rand successions, with subsequent uplift, sediment recycling
and stacking of unconformities (Coward et al. 1995). Each
unconformity surface is overlain by transgressive quartz-
pebble conglomerate lags and pyritic cross-bedded sandstones,
which, in selected stratigraphic locations, are the host to gold
and uranium ore bodies (i.e., reefs).
In addition to burial and deformation related to
episodic synsedimentary subsidence and uplift, several post-
Witwatersrand, Archaean and Proterozoic events have modied
the Witwatersrand Supergroup. These include (after Coward
et al. 1995; Martin et al. 1998): (i) stacked episodes of ood-
basalt volcanism, uplift, erosion and half-graben deposition of
the Ventersdorp Supergroup; (ii) folding and thrusting prior to
deposition of the Transvaal Supergroup; (iii) passive-margin
thermal subsidence and exural reactivation during deposition
of the Chuniespoort Group (lower Transvaal Supergroup); (iv)
rift-basin deposition of the Duitschland Formation and Preto-
ria Group (middle Transvaal Supergroup); (v) emplacement of
the Bushveld Igneous Complex associated with lithospheric
extension and high heat-ow, coeval with deposition of the
Rooiberg Group (upper Transvaal Supergroup); (vi) strike-slip
deformation associated with uplift of the Vredefort Dome.
These events are linked to several phases of metamorphism and
alteration, with peak metamorphism reaching lower greenschist
temperatures of 350 50 C (Phillips & Law 1994).
There is extensive debate as to whether major ore com-
ponents (gold, uraninite, pyrite) in reefs were: (i) introduced
as detrital heavy minerals and later remobilized during meta-
morphism or hydrothermal alteration (Minter 1978; Frimmel
1997; Robb et al. 1997) or (ii) introduced by hydrothermal
uids during metamorphism (Phillips & Myers 1989; Barnicoat
et al. 1997; Phillips & Law 2000). The second hypothesis
requires more than one hydrothermal event because gold-
pyrite uraninite mineralization is recorded from the basal
stratigraphic succession of the Ventersdorp Supergroup
(Ventersdorp Contact Reef), which post-dates folding, faulting
and mineralization of the Witwatersrand Supergroup (Krapez
1985), and from the basal Black Reef of the Transvaal
Supergroup, which similarly post-dates the Ventersdorp
Fig. 1. Subsurface geological map and
stratigraphic column of the
Witwatersrand Basin, including the
localities of the Welkom (WGF),
Klerksdorp (KGF) and Carletonville
Goldelds (CGF): modied after
Frimmel (1997).
Samples were collected of mineralized and non-mineralized sedimen-
tary rocks from underground mine workings and diamond drill core
on the Welkom, Klerksdorp and Carletonville Goldelds (Fig. 1).
Sampled intervals include: (i) the Steyn and Leader Reefs from
Freegold One (President Steyn Mine) on the Welkom Goldeld; (ii)
sub-economic reefs (e.g., A and B Reefs) and uneconomic conglomer-
ates, sandstones and mudrocks in the Freegold Mining Lease on the
Welkom Goldeld; (iii) the Vaal and C Reefs, as well as uneconomic
conglomerates, sandstones and mudrocks from Vaal Reef Numbers 8
and 9 Shaft on the Klerksdorp Goldeld; (iv) the Ventersdorp Contact
and Dennys Reefs from Vaal Reef Number 10 Shaft on the
Klerksdorp Goldeld; (v) the Inner Basin Reef (upper West Rand
Group) from the Afrikander Lease on the Klerksdorp Goldeld; (vi)
the Dominion Reef from the Dominion Lease on the Klerksdorp
Goldeld; (vii) the Carbon Leader and Black Reef from Western Deep
Levels on the Carletonville Goldeld; (viii) the Ventersdorp Contact
Reef from Elandsrand Mine on the Carletonville Goldeld; (ix) the
Black Reef, from diamond drill core, in the Potchefstroom Gap Area
between the Klerksdorp and Carletonville Goldelds.
UV-epiuorescent microscopy
Oil-bearing uid inclusions were identied in polished thin-sections
from many of the samples using conventional transmitted light (TL)
and ultra-violet (UV) epiuorescence microscopy. The process in-
volved the attachment of a vertical UV illuminator to a conventional
TL microscope, allowing observation under long-wave UV vertical
illumination (Burruss 1981). Liquid hydrocarbons, if present within
uid inclusions, will uoresce under ultra-violet excitement. The
various uorescent colours and intensities relate to dierences in
organic chemical composition and are controlled essentially by the type
and concentration of aromatic molecules (and to a lesser degree, N-,
S- and O-bearing compounds), relative to aliphatic compound
concentrations (Stasiuk & Snowden 1997).
Various researchers that discuss oil uorescence (Hagemann &
Hollerbach 1986; McLimans 1987; Bodnar 1990; Lisk & Eadington
1994) often relate variations in uorescence colours to dierences in oil
gravity (API number), which may directly relate to oil maturation. Oil
at the red end of the uorescent spectrum is considered to be produced
from source rocks at the onset of oil generation, representing low
maturity heavy oils. The blue and white uorescent colours at the
other end of the spectrum represent light oil or condensate expelled
from source rocks at higher levels of maturity, corresponding with
peak to late generation (Lisk & Eadington 1994). This, however does
not take into account other complexities, which may alter hydro-
carbon composition and thus aect UV uorescence (George et al.
2001). Complexities may include: (i) variation in source rock type,
although this had a less-signicant eect with Archaean oils, which
could have been derived from only bacterial-algal Type I or Type II
kerogens (Mossman & Tompson-Rizer 1993); (ii) oil fractionation due
to water ushing and biodegradation during migration (Bodnar 1990);
(ii) fractionation of oil during trapping (George et al. 2001); (iv)
thermal alteration of oil during migration (Killops & Killops 1993).
With little detailed information on the organic chemistry of
Archaean oil, and to what extent chemical, thermal or biological
interaction processes may have been involved during oil migration, it is
dicult to interpret the causes for the variations in uorescence
evident from samples examined during this study. Whereas some
studies of Phanerozoic oil suggest that samples containing more than
one uorescent colour reect multiple oil migration events or dierent
sources (McLimans 1987; Eadington et al. 1991), others recommend
caution because single oil charges can show dierent colour
populations (George et al. 2001).
The uid-inclusion history derived from samples of sandstones and
conglomerates of the Witwatersrand Supergroup is complex. The
complexity arises not only from uid inclusions trapped during
post-depositional activity, but also from uid inclusions in detrital
quartz grains. In some cases, to assist in dening the paragenetic
timing of oil-bearing uid-inclusion entrapment, selected polished
thin-sections were examined also by cathodoluminescence scanning-
electron microscopy (CL-SEM), which provides a means of identify-
ing: (i) healed microfractures (evident as uid inclusion trails under TL
microscopy) and (ii) secondary quartz cements, which are optically
indistinguishable from detrital quartz grains in conventional optical
microscopy. CL-SEM imagery of Phanerozoic sandstones is often used
to distinguish detrital quartz grains from diagenetic quartz over-
growths and fracture ll (Hogg et al. 1992; Sullivan et al. 1997;
Milliken & Labach 2000). Detrital quartz from an igneous source is
usually substantially brighter in luminescence than quartz of an
authigenic origin (i.e., overgrowth and fracture ll).
Oil-bearing uid inclusions: results and discussion
Inclusion description
Of the 62 polished thin-sections examined under UV illumi-
nation during this study, 41 have uid inclusions that contain
liquid hydrocarbons. The oil-bearing uid inclusions range
from 3 to 15 m in diameter. They are hosted in either healed
microfractures within detrital quartz grains or are primary
inclusions within syntaxial quartz overgrowths (Figs 2 and 3).
Although some re-equilibration of uid inclusions could have
been expected due to increasing temperature and burial during
basin subsidence and subsequent metamorphism (McLimans
1987), in most cases the liquid hydrocarbons within the uid
inclusions are well preserved. They appear typically as three
Fig. 2. Schematic diagram showing entrapment sites of uid
inclusions within sandstones and conglomerates.
phases (clear liquid-oil-gas bubble), although four phases
(clear liquid-oil-clear liquid-gas) and oil-only inclusions are
present. The oil portion of the inclusions is represented by
either a clear, light or dark brown liquid rim, which typically
surrounds the mobile gas phase and ranges from 5 to 20% of
the total volume of each uid inclusion (Fig. 3a and b).
Although some oil-bearing uid inclusions exhibit textural
evidence of auto-decrepitation and necking-down, the majority
show rounded or negative crystal shapes. The oil-bearing uid
inclusion morphologies include spherical, oval, ellipsoidal,
lath-like and irregular shapes, although there is no obvious
relationship between inclusion morphology and quartz cement
Fig. 3. Photomicrographs showing oil-bearing uid inclusions hosted in healed microfractures from various sandstones and conglomerates of the
Witwatersrand Supergroup. (a, b) Detrital quartz grain surrounded by a matrix of sericite and brannerite (opaque) (a,TL). The quartz grain
contains two large uid inclusions (marked by arrow), Vaal Reef, Klerksdorp Goldeld. A higher magnication, TL-UV composite
photomicrographs (b) demonstrates that the two uid inclusions uoresce yellow-orange under UV illumination. The dark liquid rim (marked by
arrows in b) surrounding the gas bubble represents the oil portion of the inclusion. (c, d) Trail of oil-bearing uid inclusions, uorescing white,
green and blue (c; TL; d, UV), Leader Reef, Welkom Goldeld. (e, f) Detrital quartz grain with multiple trails of oil-bearing uid inclusions,
displaying a variety of orescent colours including orange, red, yellow, green, and blue (e; TL; f, UV), Steyn Reef, Welkom Goldeld.
history. The inclusions show a wide range of uorescent
colours including red, light brown, orange, yellow, green, white
and blue (Fig. 3b, d and f). Yellow is the most prominent
colour recorded, and irregularly shaped inclusions are most
common. Oil-bearing uid inclusions with an irregular mor-
phology are generally larger than other morphological types.
Petrographic distribution
Fluid inclusions in samples from the Witwatersrand
Supergroup, the Ventersdorp Contact Reef and the Black Reef
(Fig. 2) are categorized as: (i) pre-depositional (mostly
aqueous) uid inclusions hosted in detrital grains (Type 1); (ii)
secondary inclusions hosted in point-contact fractures that
developed during physical compaction (Type 2); (iii) primary
inclusions hosted in quartz cements (Type 3); (iv) secondary
inclusions hosted in deformation-related fractures (Type 4); (v)
primary inclusions hosted in quartz veins (Type 5). In many
cases, it can be dicult to distinguish between the various
types. Resolution of some entrapment sites was achieved only
by CL-SEM examination of polished thin-sections. No corre-
lation was detected between entrapment site of the oil-bearing
uid inclusion and UV uorescent colour.
Type 1 uid inclusions are identied as those hosted in detrital
quartz grains and pebbles, and in lithic fragments (e.g.,
rounded sandstone fragments), and that were entrapped prior
to sedimentary deposition. This type, which has obvious
provenance relevance, includes uid inclusions that originated
in source hinterlands (Shepherd 1977; Hallbauer 1983) or in
previously deposited Witwatersrand sediments that were
recycled during intraformational uplift. Some inherited inclu-
sions can be recognized easily within detrital quartz grains,
because they are associated with microfractures and quartz-
healing patterns that are dierent to those in other surround-
ing framework grains. However, inherited uid inclusions in
quartz pebbles and grains show no evidence of liquid hydro-
carbons. The only Type 1 uid inclusions that contain oil are
those hosted in rounded pebbles of sandstone.
Type 2 inclusions are secondary uid inclusions hosted
by healed microfractures, within detrital quartz grains
(Dutkiewicz et al. 1998; Figs 2 and 4). Microfracturing, as a
burial process, is considered to initiate during early stages of
diagenesis (<1 km in depth; e.g., Zhang et al. 1990), but
precedes the onset of pressure solution. It occurs when frame-
work minerals (e.g., quartz grains) are unable to support
increasing overburden. Strain, at a granular level, is taken up
at grain-point contacts with resulting internal brittle failure
and grain rotation (Groshong 1988; Zhang et al. 1990).
Microfractures are commonly restricted to one or two grains
(Groshong 1988), and typically have a wide range of orienta-
tions (Borg & Maxwell 1956). In some instances, micro-
fractures, when recorded under CL-SEM, can terminate at
detrital grain boundaries and do not penetrate syntaxial quartz
The healed microfractures within the detrital quartz grains
that host Type 2 inclusions are texturally similar to those
described by Lisk & Eadington, (1994) and Parnell et al. (1998)
from Phanerozoic examples, and are similarly interpreted to be
compaction-related. The microfractures are the most promi-
nent textural site where oil-bearing uid inclusions were
entrapped (Fig. 4), and they commonly host multiple oil-
bearing uid inclusions, normally with a wide range of uo-
rescent colours (Fig. 3e and f). In some cases, particular grains
have been selective hosts for oil-bearing uid inclusions within
point-contact fractures, perhaps due to the greater suscepti-
bility of those grains to brittle failure during physical
Type 3. There are liquid hydrocarbons also in primary
inclusions entrapped in syntaxial quartz overgrowths (Type 3,
Figs 2 and 5). Quartz cementation of siliciclastic successions
can develop at moderate burial depths (1-15 km) and continue
with increasing depth and temperature (Bjrlykke & Egeberg,
1993). Authigenic quartz may be derived from circulating
silica-saturated pore uids or a local source such as dissolution
of silicate minerals or quartz pressure solution, which initiates
at moderate depths (Bjrlykke & Egeberg 1993).
Although CL-SEM imagery indicates that quartz grain
interpenetration was limited in Witwatersrand samples, other
forms of pressure solution are evident, including extensive
stylolitization and development of pressure-solution seams and
zones, particularly within reef packages. Quartz appears to
have been preferentially dissolved in the presence of phyllo-
silicates, bitumen and heavy minerals. The oil-bearing uid
inclusions hosted in quartz cements are sited typically at
contacts between detrital grains and overgrowths (Fig. 5cf),
implying that entrapment occurred during early cementation
(cf. Lisk & Eadington 1994). Entrapment sites commonly
contain multi-coloured inclusions (Fig. 5f). In many cases,
quartz overgrowths were preferentially corroded and dissolved
in the presence of pyrophyllite, most likely during acidic
metasomatism (cf. Barnicoat et al. 1997).
Type 4 uid inclusions are those entrapped in healed micro-
fractures that penetrate through framework minerals and
quartz cements, typically without changing fracture orien-
tation. The sandstones and conglomerates must have almost
fully indurated at this stage of oil migration and acted as brittle
bodies. Fracturing of this nature most likely developed during
multiple episodes of deformation, particularly related to post-
Witwatersrand events (Coward et al. 1995). Bedding-parallel
fractures associated with bitumen seams, as described by
Barnicoat et al. (1997) and Gray et al. (1998), are linked to syn-
to post-Witwatersrand deformation. Although those types of
bedding-parallel fractures do not contain oil-bearing uid
inclusions, other Type 4 sites, unrelated to bitumen seams,
contain trace amounts of oil-bearing uid inclusions (e.g., C
Reef, Carbon Leader Reef). These microfractures are vertical
to sub-vertical in orientation, and their paragenetic timing is
poorly constrained.
Type 5 uid inclusions were examined also from hydro-
thermal quartz veins (Type 5, Fig. 2) in the C Reef of
the Klerksdorp Goldeld. These quartz veins post-date the
formation of bitumen nodules hosted in the mineralized con-
glomerate, and samples of veins examined during this study
do not contain liquid hydrocarbons in either primary or
secondary inclusions. Nevertheless, similar quartz veins
sampled for uid inclusion studies by Phillips et al. (1988) and
Frimmel et al. (1999) contain CH
, identied by a depression
in the CO
-triple point. Any oil that was present most
likely would have been coked due to higher localized uid
temperature (c. 150 500 C; Drennan et al.1999) to form
pyrobitumen. This may explain the presence of bitumen in
inclusions hosted in quartz veins, as recorded by Drennan et al.
Stratigraphic distribution
Oil-bearing uid inclusions are recorded here from samples at
stratigraphic intervals throughout the Central Rand Group, as
Fig. 4. Photomicrographs and SEM image showing the petrographic setting of uorescent uid inclusions from Dennys Reef, Klerksdorp
Goldeld. (a) TL photomicrograph shows detrital quartz grains with intra-granular pores lled with quartz and late-phase bitumen (opaque).
(b) CL SEM image of (a) reveals non-luminescent quartz lling physical compaction-related microfractures and overgrowing detrital grains
(indicated by arrows). (c, d) Combined TL (c) and UV (d) photomicrographs are a close up of (a) and (b) (see inserts), showing that many of
the uid inclusions associated with microfractures contain oil. The oil-bearing uid inclusions in (d) uoresce yellow and light blue.
Fig. 5. Photomicrographs and SEM images showing the petrographic setting of uorescent uid inclusions from the Steyn Reef, Welkom
Goldeld. (a) TL photomicrograph showing detrital quartz grains with intra-granular pores lled with chlorite, sericite and quartz. (b) CL SEM
image of (a), reveals non-luminescent quartz lling ne physical compaction-related microfractures and overgrowing detrital grains. TL
photomicrograph (c) and matching CL-SEM image (d) (close up of a and b) reveal a trail of uid inclusions at the boundary between the quartz
overgrowth and the detrital quartz grain (indicated by arrows). Other uid inclusion trails are conned to healed microfractures. (e, f) Fluid
inclusions hosted at the overgrowth-detrital grain boundary and those conned within healed microfractures (see insert in c) show evidence of
oil, indicated by green and blue uorescence under UV illumination (f).
well as from samples of the Inner Basin Reef (upper West
Rand Group), the Ventersdorp Contact and Black Reefs
(Fig. 6). There is no obvious correlation between stratigraphic
position and UV uorescent colour of oil-bearing uid inclu-
sions. The oldest stratigraphic interval investigated (Dominion
Reef) shows no evidence of oil-bearing uid inclusions (see
also Feather & Glatthaar 1987). The implication is that the
Dominion Reef most likely received no or only a minimal oil
Samples of the Inner Basin Reef (at the base of the
Jeppestown Subgroup) contain uid inclusions with liquid
hydrocarbons in Type 1 and 2 sites. Inherited oil-bearing uid
inclusions (Type 1) identied in those samples are hosted in
a well-cemented and partially recrystallized, rounded pebble
of sandstone. Although the pebble preserves several sets of
microfractures and evidence for several phases of quartz
recrystallization, oil-inclusions are conned to early point-
contact fractures within detrital quartz grains enclosed by
Fig. 6. Stratigraphic distribution of oil-bearing uid inclusions within the Witwatersrand Supergroup, in the Welkom, Klerksdorp, and
Carletonville Goldelds: stratigraphic section modied from SouthAfrican Committee for Stratigraphy (1981). Arrows indicate sections of the
stratigraphic succession examined during the study.
authigenic quartz cements. Irrespective of whether the
pebble were derived intraformationally from Witwatersrand
sediments or from pre-Witwatersrand source rocks, its oil-
bearing uid inclusions indicate that liquid hydrocarbons
migrated through sedimentary rocks before deposition of the
Jeppestown Subgroup.
Samples that contain oil-bearing uid inclusions come from
the Central Rand Group in the Klerksdorp, Carletonville and
Welkom Goldelds. The oil-lled inclusions are recorded
mostly in samples from conglomerate units, particularly those
that contain bituminous nodules. Oil entrapment is most
prevalent in Type 2 uid inclusions, although Types 1, 3 and 4
uid inclusions are preserved also. In several cases, oil inclu-
sions appear to have been entrapped at various stages in the
quartz paragenetic sequence. Reefs that contain abundant
oil-bearing uid inclusions, as well as bituminous nodules, are
the Vaal, C and Dennys Reefs of the Klerksdorp Goldeld,
the Steyn, Leader, A and B Reefs of the Welkom Goldeld,
and the Carbon Leader Reef of the Carletonville Goldeld. In
some polished thin sections, up to 30% of the total uid
inclusions contain liquid hydrocarbons.
Non-mineralized sandstones and conglomerate lags distal
to the mineralized conglomerates also contain oil-bearing
uid inclusions, but they are comparatively less abundant.
The implication is that the reef horizons were the principal,
but not sole, pathways for early oil migration. Furthermore,
their larger average grain sizes and higher porosities may well
have made reef horizons more susceptible to point-contact
fracturing during physical compaction (Zhang et al. 1990),
thereby providing more sites for oil entrapment during early
Samples examined from the Ventersdorp Contact Reef
contain two populations of oil-bearing uid inclusions. The
rst population comprises small (<4 m) three-phase inclu-
sions. The oil phase appears as a ne clear lm with a
dull-white uorescence under UV illumination. The timing of
the microfractures which host the liquid hydrocarbons is
poorly constrained, but they appear to be Type 2 or Type 4.
Oil-bearing uid inclusions of the second population, which
are present in only trace amounts, have uorescence features
similar to those of oil-bearing uid inclusions from the
Witwatersrand Supergroup. It is possible that this second
population of oil-bearing uid inclusions is inherited
(Type 1).
The youngest sedimentary rocks examined in this study are
from the Black Reef. Samples from the Carletonville Goldeld
and the Potchefstroom Gap Area contain oil in Types 2 and 3
entrapment sites, which is consistent with observations
recorded by Dutkiewicz et al. (1998).
Oil generation and migration
There are several lines of evidence that indicate that oil
generation and migration within the Witwatersrand
Supergroup can be compared to oil generation and migration
in Phanerozoic successions. These include: (i) the presence of
suitable source rocks; (ii) evidence for suitable temperature
and burial conditions required for source-rock maturation; (iii)
evidence of oil and gas trapped in uid inclusions, thus
providing direct evidence of hydrocarbon migration; (iv) the
presence of bituminous nodules, which record the residual
products of hydrocarbon migration. The following section
explores this comparison.
Source rocks
Recent studies suggest that hydrocarbons were most
likely sourced from organic matter within shales of the
Witwatersrand Supergroup (Law et al. 1991; Gray et al. 1998;
Phillips & Law 2000; Spangenberg & Frimmel 2001). Numer-
ous thick shales units have been identied (Fig. 6), particularly
in the West Rand Group, that contain carbonaceous matter of
interpreted primary origin (Gray et al. 1998; Preston & Stevens
1998). Analyses by Gray et al. (1998) indicate post-mature
total organic carbon (TOC) levels of up to 1% in shales from
the West Rand and Central Rand Groups, which suggests that
those rocks would have been adequate petroleum sources.
Shales from the Chuniespoort Group of the lower Transvaal
Supergroup (Meyer & Robb 1996), and possibly also organic-
rich units in the underlying Wolkberg Group (Button 1976),
could have been local sources for oil preserved in conglomerate
units of the Black Reef.
Source rock maturation
Oil generation is limited typically to a narrow window of
approximately 100-150 C, with source rock maturation
generally inuenced by depths of burial and the geothermal
gradient of the host basin (Mackenzie & Quigley 1988). For
Precambrian basins such as the Witwatersrand, there is
some diculty in reconstructing thermal histories because:
(i) there is a general lack of the maturity indicators used for
Phanerozoic basins, for example, pollen colouration, vitrinite
reectance, oil chemistry and/or AFTA measurements (Duddy
et al. 1994) and (ii) mudrock sources are normally thermally
overprinted by metamorphism. Problems also exist in estimat-
ing the burial history of the Witwatersrand Basin because of
poor geochronological constraints and lack of estimates of the
amount of stratigraphic section removed below unconformities
(see Winter 1987).
The geothermal gradient of the Witwatersrand Basin prior
to the development of the Ventersdorp Supergroup is con-
sidered to have been similar to the Rocky Mountains and East
Venezuelan Foreland Basins, which have typical values of
c.15-35 C km
(Tissot & Welte 1984: Osadetz et al. 1992).
These values are consistent with previous estimates of the
geothermal gradient of the Witwatersrand Basin (Gibson et al.
1997; Jones 1988; Martini 1992), as well as values derived from
uid-inclusion analyses (Frimmel et al. 1993).
From a combination of even the most-modest geothermal
gradients of 15-16 C km
(Jones 1988; Martini 1992) and
current average thicknesses of the succession (Fig. 7), it is
likely that oil generation commenced during deposition of the
Central Rand Group, with oil sourced from the lower West
Rand Group (Fig. 7). The presence of Types 1 and 2 (Fig. 2)
oil inclusions in conglomerates of the Inner Basin Reef (upper
West Rand Group) implies that oil migration occurred even
earlier. With potential shale sources at various horizons
throughout the West Rand and Central Rand Groups, the
Witwatersrand Supergroup probably passed progressively
through the oil window during burial (Fig. 7). It is likely that
source rocks in the Central Rand Group (e.g., Booysens
Shale) produced oil during deposition of the Ventersdorp
Supergroup, when high geothermal gradients were associated
with lithospheric extension and ood-basalt emplacement
(Coward et al. 1995).
Oil generation within the Witwatersrand Supergroup
occurred up to a maximum of 200 million years after
deposition of the source rocks, thus falling well within the
time frame of hydrocarbon systems in Phanerozoic foreland
basins (Erlich & Barrett 1992; Osadetz et al. 1992). Such an
interpretation is in conict with the suggestion by Robb et al.
(1997) that oil generation and migration from Witwatersrand
shales occurred at c. 2300 Ma. It is conceivable that by that
time, which was at least 400 million years after Witwatersrand
deposition, most of the source rocks were outside the oil
window (Fig. 7) and probably near the limits of gas generation
(c. 230 C, Tissot & Welte 1984), particularly given the post-
Witwatersrand tectonic history of the Kaapvaal Craton.
Furthermore, the quoted age of c. 2300 Ma, which is derived
from UPb dating of uraniferous bituminous nodules in
Witwatersrand conglomerates (Robb et al. 1994), may record
uranium remobilization (Schidlowski 1981) rather than oil
migration and the formation age of bituminous nodules.
Oil migration
The presence of oil-bearing uid inclusions provides direct
evidence that oil migration took place in the Witwatersrand
Supergroup. Their locations in compaction related micro-
fractures (Type 2) and in early syntaxial quartz overgrowths
(Type 3) have Phanerozoic analogues (Lisk & Eadington 1994;
Parnell et al. 1998), and imply the presence of oil in formation
uids during early burial. The stratigraphic distribution of
oil-bearing uid inclusions also indicates that hydrocarbon
generation and migration were most likely ongoing throughout
basin development, and is consistent with progressive sedi-
mentary compaction and kerogen maturation. Although oil-
bearing uid inclusions are most abundant in the ore horizons,
their presence in non-mineralized conglomerates and sand-
stones indicates that oil migration was not conned to the reefs
but was basin-wide.
In the majority of samples examined from the
Witwatersrand Supergroup, there is more than one population
of oil-inclusions. This is apparent not only from oil that was
entrapped at various stages of the quartz paragenetic sequence
(Fig. 2), but possibly also from the variety of dierent coloured
inclusions that were entrapped in the same textural sites. In
Phanerozoic basins, this multiplicity in oil-inclusions may
indicate multiple phases of oil migration or dierent sources of
oil (McLimans 1987; Eadington et al. 1991; Parnell et al. 1998).
In the case where oil is entrapped in microfractures, inclusions
of various oil compositions are entrapped progressively as the
fractures slowly heal. It is evident, from even the most oil-
saturated siliciclastic reservoirs in Phanerozoic successions,
that water will remain the wetting phase, thereby enabling
quartz cementation and the trapping of oil inclusions to
continue slowly (Lisk & Eadington 1994). As discussed above,
the signicance of the variation in uorescence (or, more
precisely, oil composition) from Witwatersrand samples is still
unclear. Nevertheless, by analogy to several Phanerozoic
examples (McLimans 1987; Stasiuk & Snowdon 1997),
Witwatersrand sandstones and conglomerates may have
received multiple charges of oil of varying composition during
burial, as a consequence of changes in oil maturation or oil
fractionation during migration.
As primary porosity diminishes due to quartz cementation
and pressure solution during increasing depth and temperature
(Leder & Park 1986), oil migration or entrapment becomes
restricted to secondary porosity (e.g., fractures). With evidence
for several deformation events during the post-depositional
history of the Witwatersrand Supergroup (Coward et al. 1995;
Frimmel 1997), the absolute timing of many of the late
fractures (Type 4) and veins (Type 5) is dicult to constrain.
Only a few of the recognized late fractures (Type 4) contain
oil-bearing uid inclusions. However, previous uid inclusion
studies (see review in Klemd 1999) have shown that
light hydrocarbons (e.g., CH
and C
) and bitumen (e.g.,
Drennan et al. 1999; Gartz & Frimmel 1999) are present in
primary and secondary uid inclusions entrapped in quartz
veins. The hydrocarbon gases entrapped in late paragenetic
sites may reect increasing maturation levels during later
periods of basin evolution, with associated increases in
temperatures and burial depths (Fig. 7).
Summary and implications for the goldbitumen
Oil preserved in uid inclusions within the Witwatersrand
Supergroup indicates that there was hydrocarbon generation
and migration during the Archaean. Oil-bearing uid inclu-
sions are recorded in polished thin-sections of conglomerates
and, to a lesser degree, sandstones taken from samples
throughout the Central Rand Group, as well as from repre-
sentative samples of the upper West Rand Group, the
Ventersdorp Contact Reef at the base of the Ventersdorp
Supergroup, and the Black Reef at the base of the Transvaal
Supergroup. The presence of those oil-bearing uid inclusions
in healed microfractures, which developed in detrital quartz
Fig. 7. Comparison of the various burial depths required for the
onset of oil generation, dependent on the given geothermal gradient
applied (1; 15-16 C km
; Jones 1988; Martini 1992; 2 & 4, Frimmel
et al. 1993; 3 Gibson et al., 1997) and a sequence thickness of
approximately 7 km. It appears, from the diagram, that oil was most
likely generated from lower West Rand Group mudrocks prior to
the end of deposition of the Central Rand Group. V, Ventersdorp
Supergroup; CR, Central Rand Group; WR, West Rand Group.
grains during physical compaction, and in early syntaxial
quartz overgrowths indicates that the onset of oil mi-
gration coincided with early stages of sedimentary burial, when
intra-granular porosity was still preserved.
This investigation points strongly to the evolution of
multiple generations of oil. Evidence includes: (i) that oil was
trapped in inclusions in the same type of early diagenetic
fabrics throughout the stratigraphic successions; (ii) that many
of the oil entrapment sites contain more than one type of oil,
as indicated by the variation in UV-uorescent colours (cf.
McLimans 1987); (iii) that oil was typically entrapped at
multiple stages of the quartz paragenetic sequence that can be
identied within single polished thin-sections. It is likely that
oil preserved within sandstones and conglomerates of the
Central Rand Group and the Ventersdorp Contact Reef was
derived from multiple source areas. The lack of oil-bearing
uid inclusions, and only the rare occurrence of residual
hydrocarbon in the Dominion Reef, imply that the major oil
source-rocks were stratigraphically higher than the Dominion
This study indicates that oil generation and migration
were ongoing throughout and after development of the
Witwatersrand Basin, consistent with progressive burial and
kerogen maturation. Liquid hydrocarbon identied in uid
inclusions from the Black Reef was probably derived from
a source other than the Witwatersrand Supergroup, such
as carbonaceous mudrocks within the same succession,
carbonaceous mudrocks within the overlying Chuniespoort
Group, or carbonaceous shales within the underlying
Wolkberg Group.
The results from this study are in conict with the suggestion
by Robb et al. (1997) that onset of oil generation and
migration in the Witwatersrand Supergroup occurred at
c. 2300 Ma, at some stage during deposition of the Transvaal
Supergroup. Analogy with Phanerozoic successions implies
that at a similar stage of basin evolution (i.e. at least
400 million years after deposition), source rocks in the
Witwatersrand Supergroup were unlikely to be still producing
oil and may have already reached the limits of gas generation
as the consequence of increasing depth of burial, increasing
temperature, and the impact of successive tectonic events.
Early oil generation and migration can explain why only a
limited number of fractures that developed during late-stage
deformation contain oil, and why light hydrocarbons, such as
methane, are present in uid inclusions that are hosted in late
authigenic quartz and secondary trails in late quartz veins
(Drennan et al. 1999; Frimmel et al. 1999).
The presence of oil during diagenesis has important impli-
cations for the origin of bituminous nodules within the
Witwatersrand Supergroup. If rounded uraninite grains
represent former detrital heavy minerals, as many petro-
graphic studies have proposed (Ramdohr 1958; Minter 1978;
Schidlowski 1981), then oil migrating through primary
porosity during early stages of burial would almost certainly
have been radiogenically immobilized to form bituminous
nodules. A similar mechanism for bituminous nodule forma-
tion during diagenesis has been established from Phanerozoic
depositional basins (Rasmussen et al. 1989, 1993; England
et al. 2001), where detrital grains of monazite, xenotime and
high-U zircon are enveloped in bitumen that is the residual
product of immobilized hydrocarbons.
The well-documented occurrence of a signicant proportion
of Witwatersrand gold in or adjacent to bitumen seams or
nodules (e.g., Pretorius 1991) implies that either detrital gold
was remobilized or hydrothermal gold introduced after initial
radiogenic immobilization of oil. The timing of this event,
which controlled the present siting of most of the gold, was
probably late in basin history (i.e., post-Witwatersrand
deposition) when (i) primary porosity and permeability in the
Central Rand Group were limited, (ii) oil migration was at a
minimum and (iii) light hydrocarbons were the primary oil
phase. The combination of these factors limited the nature of
auriferous uids, if any, that could have deposited gold in
zones of structurally induced permeability. Importantly, inter-
nal remobilization of gold could have been achieved in the
presence of water-poor, volatile-rich uids (e.g., methane; see
England et al. 2001), potentially explaining the paucity of
synchronous quartz veins in the ore zones.
The authors acknowledge the support, assistance and co-operation of
Anglogold, and in particular Nick Fox and Keith Kenyon. We would
also like to thank the sta at the Centre for Microscopy and
Microanalysis, UWA for technical assistance. The paper has beneted
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Received 13 December 2000; revised typescript accepted 8 October 2001.
Scientic editing by Joe Macquaker.