The parautochthonous Gondwanan origin of the Cuyania (greater Precordillera) terrane of Argentina: A re-evaluation of evidence used to support an allachthonous Laurentian origin


  • S. Finney California State University at Long Beach.



Argentina, Precordillera, Cuyania, Cambrian, Ordovician, Paleogeography. U-Pb. Geochronology.


A substantial, diverse body of evidence has been interpreted as suggesting that the Cuyania terrane of northwestern Argentina, which includes the Argentine Precordillera, rifted from the Ouachita embayment of Laurentia in the Early Cambrian, drifted across the Iapetus ocean as a microcontinent, and docked with the proto-Andean margin of Gondwana in the Mid to Late Ordovician. This is the so-called Laurentian microcontinent model. However, several lines of evidence (basement age and affinity, stratigraphic, paleomagnetic and paleobiogeographical records) also point to a parautochthonous origin of this terrane. In this parautochthonous model, Cuyania migrated along a transform fault from a position on the southern margin of West Gondwana (present coordinates) in the Mid Ordovician to its modern position outboard of the Famatina magmatic belt in Devonian time. With regard to basement age and characteristics, recently acquired U-Pb geochronology of detrital zircons from Cambrian and Ordovician sandstones and of zircons from igneous clasts in an Ordovician conglomerate are difficult to explain with the Laurentian model and indicate, instead, a Gondwanan origin of the Cuyania terrane. Furthermore, potential basement rocks of Cuyania of Neoproterozoic to Early Cambrian age and Early Mesoproterozoic age are characteristic of Gondwana, rather than Laurentia. Pb isotopic ratios of Grenvillian-age basement rocks are not only similar to those of Grenvillian basement in Laurentia but also to those in other areas of West Gondwana. In terms of the stratigraphic record, the similarity of the Cambrian-Ordovician carbonate platform succession of Cuyania to that of Laurentia reflects similar paleolatitude and eustatic histories but not a direct connection. Moreover, the Middle-Upper Ordovician siliciclastic successions of Cuyania do not represent a peripheral foreland basin, but instead were deposited in strike-slip related basins in a transform fault zone. Middle Ordovician K-bentonites do not indicate that Cuyania was approaching the Famatina Magmatic arc from the west (modern coordinates), but instead that it was located to the southeast. In light of paleomagnetic data, the Cambrian paleolatitude of Cuyania is consistent not only with the location of the Ouachita embayment of Laurentia but also with the southern margin of West Gondwana. Finally, most of the paleobiogeographic criteria used to support the Laurentian model must be reconsidered. Brachiopod and conodont faunas in lower Middle Ordovician strata of the Precordillera have many more genera in common with Laurentia than those in Lower Ordovician strata. Cambrian trilobites faunas of Cuyania are of very limited abundance and diversity in comparison to correlative faunas of southeastern Laurentia; many species are endemic to Cuyania; olenellid trilobites considered to be restricted to Laurentia probably had the ability to disperse between paleoplates with similar environments. Mid Ordovician graptolites of the Precordillera on the one hand and of the Famatinian belt and Cordillera Oriental on the other belong to different oceanic provinces and likely did not live in close proximity.

Author Biography

S. Finney, California State University at Long Beach.

Department of Geological Sciences.