Carbonaceous matter occurring in chert deposits of the 3.4-3.2 Ga old Barberton Greenstone Belt (BGB), South Africa, has experienced low grade regional metamorphism and variable degrees of local hydrothermal alteration. Here a detailed study is presented of in situ analysis of carbonaceous particles by LRS (laser Raman spectroscopy) and SIMS (secondary ion mass spectrometry), reporting degree of structural disorder, carbon isotope ratio and nitrogen-to-carbon ratio. This combination of in situ analytical tools is used to interpret the delta C-13 values of only the best preserved carbonaceous remains, enabling the rejection of non-indigenous (unmetamorphosed) material as well as the exclusion of strongly hydrothermally altered carbonaceous particles. Raman spectroscopy confirmed that all carbonaceous cherts studied here have experienced a regional sub- to lower-greenschist facies metamorphic event. Although this identifies these organics as indigenous to the cherts, it is inferred from petrographic observations that hydrothermal alteration has caused small scale migration and re-deposition of organics. This suggest that morphological interpretation of these carbonaceous particles, and in general of putative microfossils or microlaminae in hydrothermally altered early Archean cherts, should be made with caution. A chert in the Hooggenoeg Formation, which is older than and has been hydrothermally altered by a volcanic event 3445 Ma ago, contains strongly altered carbonaceous particles with a uniform N/C-ratio of 0.001 and a range of delta C-13 that is shifted from its original value. Cherts of the Kromberg Formation post-date this volcanic event, and contain carbonaceous particles with a N/C-ratio between 0.002 and 0.006. Both the Buck Reef Chert and the Footbridge Cheri of the Kromberg Formation have retained fairly well-preserved delta C-13 values, with ranges from -34 parts per thousand to -24 parts per thousand. and -40 parts per thousand to -32 parts per thousand, respectively. Abiologic reactions associated with hydrothermal serpent-inization of ultramafic crust (such as Fischer-Tropsch synthesis) were an unlikely source for carbonaceous material in these cherts. The carbonaceous matter in these cherts has all the characteristics of metamorphosed biologic material. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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