Molar tooth structures of the Neoarchean Monteville Formation, Transvaal Supergroup, South Africa. I: Constraints on microcrystalline CaCO3 precipitation



Molar tooth (MT) structures are enigmatic, contorted millimetre- to decimetre-long veins and spheroids of microcrystalline calcite that formed during very early diagenesis in Precambrian sediments. MT structures in the ca 2·6 Ga Monteville Formation are 600–800 Myr older than previously reported occurrences and establish that conditions necessary for MT genesis were met locally throughout much of the Precambrian. In the Monteville Formation, MT structures were formed shallow subtidally, extending to depths near storm wave base, in shale host sediments intercalated with storm-generated carbonate sand lenses. They are filled with microcrystalline calcite and rare pyrite. Microcrystalline calcite identical to that in MT structures fills other pore space, including porosity between grains in carbonate sand lenses, moldic porosity in sand grains, sheet cracks in columnar stromatolites, and shallow cracks on sandy bedding planes. Relationships in the Monteville Formation demonstrate that microcrystalline CaCO3 precipitated in fluid-filled cracks and pores; microcrystalline calcite characteristics, as well as the paucity of carbonate mud in host rocks, are inconsistent with injection of lime mud as the origin of MT structures. Locally, MT cracks were filled by detrital sediment before or during precipitation. Precipitation occurred in stages, and MT CaCO3 evolved from granular cores to a rigid mass of cores with overgrowths – allowing both plastic and brittle deformation of MT structures, as well as reworking of eroded MT structures as rigid clasts and lime mud. Crystal size distributions and morphology suggest that cores precipitated through nucleation, Ostwald ripening and size-dependent crystal growth, whereas overgrowths formed during size-independent crystal growth.