Archean cratons consist of crustal granite-greenstone terrains (GGTs) coupled to roots of strong, buoyant cratonic lithospheric mantle (CLM). Although this association is unique to the Archean and formed from ca. 4.0 to 2.5 Ga, the origins of terrestrial cratons are debated. I propose that crustal plateaus, quasi-circular craton-like features (∼1400–2400 km diameter, 0.5–4 km high), on Earth’s sister planet Venus might serve as analogs for Archean cratons. Crustal plateaus, which are isostatically supported by a compositionally controlled low-density root, host a distinctive surface called ribbon-tessera terrain. Ribbon-tessera also occurs as arcuate-shaped inliers in the Venus lowlands, widely interpreted as remnants of rootless crustal plateaus. Within each crustal plateau, surface ribbon-tessera terrain comprises a vast igneous province analogous to terrestrial GGTs, and the plateau root is analogous to CLM. Crustal plateaus and ribbon-tessera terrain collectively represent Venus’ oldest preserved features and surfaces, and they formed during an ancient period of globally thin lithosphere. To explain the linked features of crustal plateaus, a bolide impact hypothesis has been proposed in which a large bolide pierces ancient thin lithosphere, leading to massive partial melting in the sublithospheric mantle. In this model, melt escapes to the surface, forming an enormous lava pond, which evolves to form ribbon-tessera terrain; mantle melt residue forms a strong, resilient buoyant root, leading to plateau support and long-term stability of an individual crustal plateau. Building on the similarity of GGT–CLM and Venus crustal plateaus, I propose an exogenic hypothesis for Archean craton formation in which a large bolide pierces thin Archean lithosphere, causing localized high-temperature, high-fraction partial melting in the sublithospheric mantle; melt rises, forming an igneous province that evolves to form a GGT, and melt residue develops a complementary CLM. By this mechanism, Archean cratons may have formed in a spatially and temporally punctuated fashion at a time when large bolides showered Archean Earth.
- Received 17 February 2014.
- Revision received 23 February 2015.
- Accepted 3 August 2015.
- © 2015 Geological Society of America