GEOLOGICA CARPATHICA, 50, 4, BRATISLAVA, AUGUST 1999
MEDITERRANEAN AND PARATETHYS.
FACTS AND HYPOTHESES OF AN OLIGOCENE TO MIOCENE
PALEOGEOGRAPHY (SHORT OVERVIEW)
Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, Burgring 7, A-1014 Wien, Austria
(Manuscript received January 5, 1999; accepted in revised form March 17, 1999)
Paleogeographical considerations on the development of the Paratethys and the Mediterranean during
Oligocene and Miocene are presented in twelve time-slices. Plate tectonic activities and the collision of India with
Asia caused the destruction of the Western Tethys Ocean in the Late Eocene. The Mediterranean and the intracontinental
Paratethys basins came into existence as new marine realms. In the Mediterranean Basin open oceanic connections
existed throughout the Oligocene and most of the Miocene. The Eastern Paratethys and the Central to Western Paratethys
showed different marine conditions and changing connections most of the time. A first period with reduced salinity,
anoxic bottom conditions, and strong endemisms occurred throughout the Paratethys in a short period of the Lower
Oligocene (Solenovian, NP 23). It was followed by more open marine conditions with wide-spread clastic sedimenta-
tion (Upper Kiscellian, Kalmykian, NP 24). By the collision of Africa and Arabia with Eurasia, the seaway between
the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean was closed in Burdigalian time, but a new landbridge enabled a distinct
mammal migration between the continents (Gomphotherium Landbridge). During the Middle Miocene marine sea-
ways between the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the Paratethys opened and closed intermittently. Finally, the
marine connections of the Paratethys were strongly reduced, and gave way to the endemic faunal development during
the later Miocene (Sarmatian to Pontian).
Oligocene, Miocene, Paratethys, Mediterranean, paleogeography.
The past few years have seen a flood of new information on
the paleogeography, paleobiogeography, and tectonic develop-
ment of the circum-Mediterranean region during the later Cen-
ozoic. This short overview is a result of some current publica-
tions (e.g. Rögl 1998) on the subject of continental and marine
migrations and emphasizes the development of the Paratethys.
The paleogeographical reconstructions must be regarded as
only sketches that can help to explain migration possibilities;
many parts raise more questions than they answer. The conti-
nent positions are based on the plate tectonic reconstructions
of Scotese et al. (1988). Important information has been re-
vealed by the recent paleogeographical studies of Hamor &
Halmai (1988), Kováč et al. (1989), Boccaletti et al. (1990),
Popov et al. (1993), Jones & Racey (1994), Goff et al. (1995),
Jones & Simmons (1996), and Studencka et al. (1998). The
most problematic period is the middle Miocene, with its rapid-
ly changing paleobiogeographical conditions and strong tec-
tonic activity. Only intensive investigations in the problematic
tectonic regions from the south-eastern end of the Carpathians,
along the Balkanides to Northern Anatolia can solve some of
the questions. Another problem is the different opinion in the
correlation of stages between Central and Eastern Paratethys.
The recent correlations are based on nannoplankton and plank-
tonic foraminifers in comparison with the chronostratigraphic
table of Berggren et al. (1995).
A vanishing Tethys Ocean in the late Eocene
Continents in motion, the dispersal of the Pangean conti-
nent, and the northward drift of India and Australia ended the
period of the Mesozoic Tethys Ocean. These changes in the
configuration of land and sea altered the pattern of oceanic cir-
culations, the climate, and the faunal exchanges on the conti-
nents and in the sea. By the end of the Eocene the Tethys
Ocean had nearly vanished. A new Indian Ocean was born,
and the western end of the Tethys was reduced to a Mediterra-
nean Sea (Fig. 1). Europe was still an archipelago. Interconti-
nental seas covered large areas of the European platform and
of western Asia. A mammal exchange between Asia and Eu-
rope was not possible. Between the stable Eurasian platform
and the relics of the western Tethys, elongated deep basins had
formed. North of India a marine connection stretched to the
West Pacific. An important connection of the Tethys with the
Polar Sea existed via the Turgai Strait, on the far side of the
Ural Mts. These seaways around Asia and the connections
with the Polar Sea enabled warm-water exchanges and probably
explain the sustained warm climate during the Late Eocene.
The birth of the Paratethys Sea. Tectonic activities along the Alpine front and the collision of India with Asia created the intercon-
tinental Paratethys Sea, and south of the orogene the Mediterranean Sea. Continentalization increased, the Turgai Strait closed and the
new oceanic circulation supplied water from the North Sea to the Paratethys.
By the northward movement of India the Tethys Ocean vanished. The western end of the relic Tethys connected the Indo-Pacific
and the Atlantic Ocean. Northward the Turgai Strait opened to the Polar Sea, and hindered an intracontinental mammal migration. Europe
was still an archipelago in the Eocene.
Eva po rites
Late E ocene - Priabonian - B eloglinian
E a r ly O lig o c e n e - E a rly K is c e llia n - P s h e k ia n
MEDITERRANEAN AND PARATETHYS. FACTS AND HYPOTHESES OF PALEOGEOGRAPHY 341
First Paratethys isolation
The closure of marine seaways culminated with the onset of
nannoplankton zone NP 23 (Fig. 3). Dysaerobic bottom condi-
tions spread in the basins. Dark laminated clays (“Meletta
shales“), monospecific nannomarls (Dynow Marlstone), and
diatomites with brackish to freshwater influences (Haczewski
1989; Krhovsky et al. 1991; Krhovsky 1995) occurred from
the Molasse Basin throughout the Carpathians to the Caspian
Basin. The strongest endemism developed with a uniform fau-
na of small-sized (1–2 cm) bivalves, for example “Cardium“
lipoldi, Janschinella, Korobkoviella, Urbnisia,
(Baldi 1986; Popov et al. 1993; Rusu et al. 1996). This horizon
is accompanied by ostracod layers. Marine faunas existed only
in the westernmost part of the Paratethys (Lindenberg 1981;
Return to open marine conditions in the Paratethys
During the middle part of the Oligocene (NP 24) well oxy-
genated bottom conditions were re-established throughout the
Paratethys. This corresponds with the period of sedimentation
of the Kiscell Clay. Deposition of clastic sediments and turbid-
ites increased in all Paratethys basins. The “Rupelton“ was de-
posited in the Rhine Graben (Huber 1994), the Slovenian sea-
way broadened. A connection from the Indian Ocean to the
Transcaucasian and Transcaspian basins is strongly debated. A
possible connection is supported by recently studied sections
in the Zagros Mts. with thin-bedded limestones and marls of
Birth of the Paratethys Sea
In contrast to Laskarev’s (1924) definition of a Neogene
Paratethys, the investigations of the Oligocene sequences have
demonstrated that the formation of an isolated Paratethys Sea
had started around the Eocene-Oligocene boundary (Baldi
1980; Rusu 1988). Strong tectonic activities changed the Eur-
asian configuration (Fig. 2). The Tethys finally vanished by
the collision of the Indian continent with Asia. Continentaliza-
tion of Europe increased, the Turgai Strait became dry land,
and the Bering Bridge opened and enabled a mammal migra-
tion from North America to Asia and further to Europe. The
Paratethys Sea was separated from the Mediterranean. Elon-
gated deep troughs stretched from the Western Alps to the
Transcaspian Basin. The Danish-Polish Strait enabled Latdor-
fian mollusc faunas to migrate from the North Sea to the
southern Ukraine and the shores of the Transcaspian Basin,
within nannoplankton zone NP 21 (Popov et al. 1993). In the
west a shallow seaway, the Rhine Graben opened to the north,
whereas deep marine troughs stayed open in the Prealps and in
the Slovenian corridor. The first isolation of the Paratethys
produced dysaerobic bottom conditions documented by the
sedimentation of black shales. In the upper NP 22 Zone, wide-
spread pteropod horizons (Spiratella/Limacina marls) form a
distinct marker level. In the Eastern Paratethys the subsidence
was associated with uncompensated sedimentation of dark
shales (Khadum facies), hydrogen sulfide contamination and
an event of sedimentary manganese ore formation. The hydro-
gen sulfide contamination continued in the deep Eastern Para-
tethys basins throughout the Oligocene and early Miocene.
A closure of open seaways caused the first isolation of the Paratethys. Dysaerobic conditions at the bottom of the basins, reduced
salinity, and strong endemism are observed. The only marine connections existed in the far west with the Mediterranean and via the
Rhine Graben with the North Sea.
E a rly O ligo cene - M idd le K isce llian - S olenovian
During the middle part of the Oligocene the Paratethys returned to open marine conditions. The peri-Alpine seaway closed in the
upper Oligocene. Around the Oligocene-Miocene boundary (Aquitanian) tropical incursions from the Indian Ocean increased. The circu-
lation from the Indian to the Atlantic Ocean remained open. In the western Mediterranean the spreading of the Balearic Sea started.
In the Lower Burdigalian, the Molasse trough along the Alpine Foredeep re-opened, the Slovenian corridor between Mediterranean
and Central Paratethys closed. The extent of the marine realm in the area of the later Pannonian Basin was strongly reduced. Distinct similar-
ities of mollusc faunas between Eastern and Central Paratethys point to open circulation and Indo-Pacific influences.
A quitanian - Late E gerian - K aradzhalgan
Early Burdigalian - Eggenburgian - S akaraulian
MEDITERRANEAN AND PARATETHYS. FACTS AND HYPOTHESES OF PALEOGEOGRAPHY 343
NP 24 age, and specific nanno-floras similar to those of the
Paratethys (pers. comm. of B. Hamršmíd, Hodonín, and provi-
sion of material by A. Hamedani, Isfahan).
In the Late Oligocene, tectonic activities also increased in
the Mediterranean. In the west, the opening of the Balearic Ba-
sin started with the formation of oceanic crust. The nappes of
the Apennines were thrust northeastwards and started their
counterclockwise rotation (Boccaletti et al. 1990). The sea re-
gressed from the western Alpine Foredeep to a line east of
Munich–Salzburg. Limno-fluviatile sedimentation of Lower
Freshwater Molasse started. Otherwise the open seaways to
the Paratethys broadened (nanno-zone NP 25), and connec-
tions from the Mediterranean existed also in Thrace. These pa-
leogeographical configurations (Fig. 4) continued in the lower-
most Miocene (Aquitanian/Egerian/NN1-lower NN2). Similar
mollusc faunas and assemblages of larger foraminifers (Mio-
) spread from the Qum Basin in Iran to
the Mediterranean and to the Central Paratethys.
The Lower Burdigalian (upper NN 2 Zone) had extensive
Indo-Pacific connections. Tropical-subtropical faunal ele-
ments continued to migrate to the Mediterranean and Para-
tethys. A horizon of giant pectinids and other “giant“ mollusc
taxa is known from California to the Bavarian Molasse (Addi-
cott 1974; Steininger et al. 1976; Rusu 1996). The main pa-
leogeographical difference from the Aquitanian is the re-open-
ing of the Mediterranean-Paratethys seaway along the Alpine
Foredeep, and the closure of the seaway in Slovenia (Fig. 5).
The marine area between the Dinarides and the outward moving
Carpathian nappes was strongly reduced (Halásová et al. 1996).
The Gomphotherium landbridge
The counterclockwise rotation of Africa and Arabia result-
ed in a collision with the Anatolian plate (Fig. 6). For a first
time the Mediterranean was cut off from the Indian Ocean.
The Mediterranean became an embayment of the Atlantic
Ocean. A newly formed landbridge connected Africa and
Eurasia and enabled a remarkable mammal exchange at the
base of mammal zone MN 4. The most impressive African
immigrants were the Proboscidea with Gomphotherium.
The tectonic activities also closed off the marine realm of
the Eastern Paratethys. The Kotsakhurian Sea, with strongly
reduced salinity and endemic faunas, came into existence.
Characteristic are the bivalve faunas with Rzehakia,
and Siliqua. In the western
part of the Paratethys the Alpine trough remained open, and a
shallow connection existed to the North Sea through the
Rhine Graben (Martini 1990). In Slovenia the corridor to the
Central Paratethys probably opened again. Strong Atlantic
and boreal influences are observed in the Central Paratethys
faunas. In the Carpathian Foredeep, the easternmost part in
the Ukraine and Romania became an evaporitic basin (e.g.
Popescu et al. 1996; Sarata Formation, NN 3).
The rotation of Africa and Arabia, and finally the collision with Eurasia closed the open marine Indo-Pacific connections. The
Landbridge connected the continents for a first time. In the Eastern Paratethys the isolated Kotsakhurian Sea came into
existence with reduced salinity and strong endemism. The Western and Central Paratethys remained under marine conditions, connected
with the Mediterranean and through the Rhine Graben with the North Sea. In the eastern Carpathian Foredeep evaporites were deposited.
L a te B u rd ig a lia n - O ttn a n g ia n - E a r ly K o ts a k h u ria n
At the end of Burdigalian (Karpatian) the general configuration remained, but in the more western regions of the Paratethys, the
Alpine Foredeep and the Transylvanian Basin became dry land. A small region in the Central Paratethys stayed in connection with the
Mediterranean Sea. Evaporites were deposited in the eastern Carpathian Foredeep and in the East Slovak Basin.
Indo-Pacific recurrence. For a short time the seaway to the Indian Ocean opened again. The Middle Miocene transgression flood-
ed the entire Mediterranean and Paratethys.
Latest B urdigalian - K arpatian - Late K otsakhurian
L a ng h ia n - E a rly B ad e n ia n - Ta rk h a n ia n
MEDITERRANEAN AND PARATETHYS. FACTS AND HYPOTHESES OF PALEOGEOGRAPHY 345
By the end of the Ottnangian a strong regression occurred in
the Alpine Foredeep, and in the estuarine areas of the Central
Paratethys, Rzehakia faunas similar to those of the Kotsakhuri-
an spread. The Transylvanian Basin also became dry land, and
in the Karpatian the marine realm was restricted to the Pan-
nonian Basin and the Carpathian Foredeep (Fig. 7). Along the
front of the Carpathians sedimentation was dominated by clas-
tics, with evaporites in the eastern part of the basin, dated NN
4 (Kováč et al. 1989; Andreyeva-Grigorovich et al. 1997; Os-
zczypko 1998). The Kotsakhurian Basin remained endemic,
and the stratigraphic correlation between the Karpatian and
Tarkhanian seems to be incorrect (see below).
Intermittent seaways and landbridges
A Middle Miocene transgressive highstand at the sequence
cycle TB 2.3 of Haq et al. (1988) is correlated with the base of
the Langhian (Fig. 8). Stratigraphically it is defined by the
FAD (first appearance datum) of the planktonic foraminiferal
genus Praeorbulina within nanno-zone NN 4. The correlation
of the Tarkhanian stage with the Karpatian by nannoplankton
zone NN 4 (e.g. Studencka et al. 1998) cannot be followed.
This zone is also present at the base of the Langhian. Other-
wise, unpublished results (N. Muzylev & C. Müller) from the
Tarkhanian at Jurkino near Kertch show already NN 5 at the
base of the section, below the Spirialis clay.
A seaway re-opened between Arabia and South Anatolia,
and a similar event also took place in Eastern Anatolia, as re-
corded by marine sediments in the Lake Van area (Gelati
1975). The main uncertainty is the highest marine develop-
ment in the Carpathian Foredeep and in the Transylvanian Ba-
sin. Tropical conditions with corresponding larger foramini-
fers and molluscs were observed in the Paratethys as far north
as Poland. In the Eastern Paratethys during the Tarkhanian,
poorly developed Globigerina assemblages, atypical mollusc
faunas, and bottom conditions contaminated by hydrogen sul-
fide make a full marine connection unlikely.
A marine seaway from the Albanian Korca Graben and the
Mesohellenic Basin to the Central Paratethys—as proposed by
Studencka et al. (1995, 1998)—did not exist. In the Mesohel-
lenic Basin, marine sedimentation ended in the Globiger-
inoides bisphericus Zone (Fermeli 1997), and to the north the
“Serbian Lake“ extended onto the Dinarides (Krstić et al.
1996). Such connections were also absent in the Aegean re-
gion (Pollak 1979). Therefore a highly speculative seaway is
proposed here. It may have extended along the suture between
the Balkanides and the Rhodopes, and continued along the
North Anatolian Fault Zone between the Black Sea plate and
the Pontides. Further insight is expected by studies of the
The Paratethys salinity crisis. With the Serravallian regression and by the tectonic translations along the Levante Fault, the Medi-
terranean-Indian Ocean seaway ceased finally. The Eastern Paratethys again became an isolated basin with reduced salinity and endemic
faunas of the Karaganian Sea. In the Central Paratethys, all the Carpathian Foredeep and the Transylvanian Basin became isolated basins
with thick evaporite sedimentation. A reduced area around the Pannonian Basin remained marine.
E a rly S e rra va llia n - M idd le B adenian - K ara ga nia n
In Late Badenian/Konkian time a final flooding of the Paratethys occurred. Marine microfaunas and radiolaria marls point to a
renewed Indo-Pacific connection. The Mediterranean remained an Atlantic embayment.
The end of marine Paratethys environments was caused by the closure of open seaways. A reduced connection opened only along
the Bitlis and Eastern Anatolian Fault zones. The Sarmatian Sea turned to reduced salinity conditions and strong endemism.
E a rly S e rra v a llia n - L a te B a d e n ia n - K o n k ia n
M id d le S e r ra v a llia n - E a r ly S a rm a tia n - Vo lh y n ia n
MEDITERRANEAN AND PARATETHYS. FACTS AND HYPOTHESES OF PALEOGEOGRAPHY 347
southward movement of the Rhodopes block (Kazmer &
Dunkl 1998). The Aegean region underwent a shortening of
10° latitude and an inward rotation of both sides of 50° since
the Lower Miocene (Kissel et al. 1989). This leaves enough
space for such a hypothetical seaway. Another possibility,
following slightly the proposed direction of Studencka et al.
(1998) would be along western Anatolia, and would avoid
the complicated structures for northern Anatolia. But this
way cannot explain the conditions of the Late Badenian/
The seaways of the Middle Miocene were short-lived. At
the beginning of the Serravallian, coinciding with the sea
level drop of cycle TB 2.3/TB 2.4 (Haq et al. 1988), tecton-
ic movements along the Levant Fault Zone again closed the
seaway between the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. The
landbridge between Africa and Eurasia emerged for a sec-
ond time (Fig. 9). The realm of the Eastern Paratethys de-
veloped into the endemic Karaganian Sea. The mollusc fau-
na was dominated by Spaniodontella, accompanied by
and Pholas. In the Central Paratethys, uplifts in the
Carpathians sealed off the foredeep and the Transylvanian
Basin. Extensive evaporites with gypsum and halite were
deposited. Only the area of the Pannonian Basin retained a
marine connection with the Mediterranean through the so-
called “Trans-Tethyan-Trench-Corridor“ in Slovenia. There
are different interpretations by Oszczypko (1998) of the
stratigraphic position of this evaporitic event, who regards
it as Late Badenian or even Early Sarmatian, within a two-
folded Badenian. In the Vienna and Transylvanian Basins
nannoplankton determinations give a youngest biostrati-
graphic datum of NN 6 or NN 6/7 for the Upper Badenian
sediments (comp. Chira 1995; Rögl 1996; pers. comm. of
M.P. Aubry), and the evaporites or regressive sediments of
the “Sandschalerzone“ are below radiolaria- or pteropod-
marls with this nanno-zonation.
From the Serravallian, the oceanic circulation between
the Indian and Atlantic Oceans was interrupted. A world-
wide temperature drop, also reflected in benthic oxygen
isotope values around 15 Ma, is correlated to this event
(Flower & Kennett 1993). The seaway from the Mediterra-
nean to the Central Paratethys in Slovenia was closed in the
Late Badenian. On the other hand, the Eastern Anatolian
seaway opened again as shown by Indo-Pacific microfossil
assemblages in the Central Paratethys (Fig. 10). Also ac-
cording to Studencka et al. (1998) the seaway in Eastern
Anatolia reopened (Araks Strait), but the authors demand
two additional independent connections for the Central and
Eastern Paratethys with the Mediterranean. All over the
Paratethys, from the Transcaspian to the Vienna Basin, a fi-
nal marine transgression covered all the different facies ar-
The Pannonian Lake and the final isolation of the Paratethys. The increasing continentalization and tectonic uplift in the Car-
pathians isolated the Pannonian Basin from the reduced salinity realm of the Eastern Paratethys. Nearly freshwater conditions with a radi-
ation of the molluscs Congeria, Melanopsis and Limnocardium dominated the lake. From the Dacian Basin eastward, facies was reduced
marine with a Sarmatian fauna. After strong regressions the Maeotian transgression entered the Eastern Paratethys on the way from the
newly formed Aegean Sea during the Tortonian transgressive highstand.
To rto n ia n - P a nn o n ia n - M a e o tia n
eas. Radiolaria shales were sedimented on top of evaporites
in the Transylvanian Basin, followed by pteropod marls. By
the end of the Late Badenian/Konkian, regressive tendencies
The endemic Paratethys
The connections of the Paratethys to the open oceans were
strongly restricted by the end of the Badenian. A general re-
organization of the circum-Mediterranean area closed the
Indo-Pacific connection (Fig. 11). A new small seaway sup-
plied the Eastern Paratethys from the Mediterranean along
the Anatolian Fault zones in the upper Euphrates valley
(Chepalyga 1995). At the beginning of the Sarmatian, salini-
ty dropped and, probably more importantly, alkalinity in-
creased (Pisera 1996). All stenohaline organisms became ex-
tinct. A mass production of a few groups with increasing
endemisms developed. The fauna and facies were similar
throughout the Paratethys.
The aquatic realm of the Central Paratethys was strongly
reduced in the Pannonian. The Carpathian Foredeep became
dry land. In the Carpathian arc, the Pannonian Lake re-
mained; it showed strongly reduced salinity conditions (Fig.
12). Almost all Sarmatian faunal elements vanished. The
limnocardiids evolved as relics of the Sarmatian. Congerias
and melanopsids of freshwater origin showed a remarkable
radiation. Sarmatian facies conditions continued in the Da-
cian and Euxinian Basins. During the Bessarabian and Kher-
sonian, a bloom of mactras took place. In the Late Kherson-
ian a strong regression isolated the Black Sea Basin, which
was flooded again in the Lower Maeotian. This Maeotian
transgression followed the new graben structures of the Ae-
gean Sea at the Middle Tortonian high stand (for discussion
of correlations see Jones & Simmons 1996; Rögl & Daxner-
A further regression in the Late Maeotian led to the nearly
freshwater conditions of the Pontian. The Pontian Lake ex-
tended from the Pannonian to the Euxinian Basin, and south-
ward into the Aegean Basin. This corresponds to the time of
the Messinian regression and salinity crisis in the Mediterra-
nean Basin. Modern conditions were established by the
Pliocene Mediterranean transgression.
My thanks go to Dr. M. Kováč (Come-
nius University, Bratislava) and to Dr. J. Michalík (Slovak
Academy of Sciences, Bratislava) for the invitation to give a
lecture and to present these paleogeographic considerations.
For renewed discussions on open problems on migration and
marine connections I thank Dr. S. Popov (Moscow), Dr. F.F.
Steininger (Frankfurt a.M.), and the members of the research
projects on Late Oligocene–Early Miocene circum-Mediter-
ranean paleobiological relations, established in Frankfurt
(F.F. Steininger), Graz (W. Piller), and Tübingen (J. Nebel-
sick). The author is further strongly endebted to Dr. N. Oszc-
zypko (Krakow), Dr. D. Vass (Bratislava), and an anonymous
reviewer for critical comments on the manuscript. For tech-
nical assistence I thank once more Mag. O. Mandic (Vienna).
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