GRANITIC PEBBLES IN UPPER CRETACEOUS RED CONGLOMERATES OF THE HAÞEG BASIN
GEOLOGICA CARPATHICA, 55, 5, BRATISLAVA, OCTOBER 2004
GRANITIC PEBBLES IN UPPER CRETACEOUS
RED CONGLOMERATES OF THE HAÞEG BASIN (SOUTHERN
CARPATHIANS, ROMANIA): GEOCHEMISTRY AND PROVENANCE
AS CLUES IN A TECTONIC CONTROVERSY
Geological Institute of Romania, Caransebeº str. No. 1, RO-78344 Bucharest, Romania; email@example.com
(Manuscript received October 10, 2003; accepted in revised form December 16, 2003)
Abstract: The Southern Carpathians (Romania) represent a segment of the Alpine belt of Europe where Cretaceous
collision generating nappe stacking was followed by normal faulting leading to core complex formation and exhumation
of the lower (Danubian) nappe system, in a process of orogen-parallel extension. There is a controversy on the timing of
the normal faulting: latest Cretaceous versus Eocene. One of the reasons for the Cretaceous option rests on the consider-
ation of the basement of the Danubian nappes from the Retezat Mountains as the source area for granite and gneiss
pebbles in Upper Maastrichtian-Paleogene(?) red conglomerates of the Haþeg Basin. Zircon fission-track ages around
80 Ma of granitic pebbles from these red conglomerates have been previously used to date the start of the exhumation
and erosion of Danubian nappes since the Late Cretaceous, assuming their provenance from the southerly located Retezat
pluton. But the major and trace element composition of a granite pebble, from the same outcrop at Clopotiva, shows K,
Na, Rb and Th excess and Ca, Fe and Sr deficit, precluding its origin from this major Danubian granitoid pluton. This
leaves room for an Eocene to Early Oligocene start for the exhumation of the Danubian nappes.
Key words: Southern Carpathians, Haþeg Basin, Maastrichtian conglomerates, Danubian granitoids, basement exhumation,
Recent progress in knowledge of the geology of the Southern
Carpathians mostly results from the application of modern
techniques, approaches, models and paradigms developed in
the last decades for the study of the Caledonian, Variscan and
Alpine belts. One of the most spectacular results was the
change from an old tectonic model, several times refined but
essentially the same for almost 100 years (summarized in Ber-
za 1997) and based exclusively on nappe structure, to a much
more complex model, in which strike-slip and normal faulting
play important roles.
Murgoci (1905a,b,c) introduced the concept of the Getic
Nappe and his map of the Southern Carpathians, particularly
the nappe limits (Murgoci 1912), is still valid. A post-nappe,
high-angle normal faulting has been later suggested for some
segments of the Getic Nappe border and dextral strike-slip
faulting with a 35 km offset of Getic Nappe outliers was iden-
tified for the Cerna-Jiu fault system by Berza & Drãgãnescu
(1988). Pavelescu & Nitu (1977, 1984) have proposed post-
nappe Tertiary dextral orogen-parallel flow of the South Car-
pathians nappe-pile, between the Moesian Platform to the
South and the Pannonian-Transylvanian block to the North.
They introduced to Romania the concept of tectonic flow and
used it for the lower part of the nappe-pile (Danubian units),
recognizing for the upper part (Getic-Supragetic units) the role
of strike-slip faults. Documenting a 90
rotation of the western part of the Southern Carpathians
around a pole situated in the western end of the Moesian Plat-
form, these two papers predate later paleomagnetic or tectonic
Looking for the consequences of the eastward escape by lat-
eral extrusion of the Austrian Eastern Alps, Ratschbacher et
al. (1993) first applied the techniques and models of modern
structural analysis to the Southern Carpathians. Later papers
by Dallmeyer et al. (1996, 1998), Linzer (1996), Neubauer et
al. (1997), Schmid et al. (1997, 1998), Bojar et al. (1998), Lin-
zer et al. (1998), Sanders (1998), Maþenco & Schmid (1999),
Füegenschuh et al. (1999), Willingshofer et al. (1999a,b,
2001), Willingshofer (2000), Füegenschuh & Schmid (2001),
Moser (2001) have developed this structural data basis, adding
Ar and fission-track (FT) dating and of basin
analysis of intra-montane troughs in the Southern Carpathians.
Paleomagnetic studies (review in Panaiotu 1998) documented
the above mentioned 90
clock-wise rotation and showed an
attenuation of this rotation south of the Danube (Panaiotu et
al. 2002). Simultaneously, petrological studies have offered a
better knowledge of the geochemistry of magmatic and meta-
morphic rocks from the pre-Alpine basements (e.g. Duchesne
et al. 1998; Berza & Tatu 2002) and of the Upper Cretaceous
intrusions and volcanics (e.g. Dupont et al. 2002). In this pa-
per we intend to use such geochemical advances to solve a tec-
In the reconstruction of the geological evolution of the
Southern Carpathians, the study of the Cretaceous and Tertia-
ry deposits, now incorporated in various sedimentary succes-
sions, was repeatedly used for dating the two major Alpine
tectonic events recorded in this mountain belt: the middle Cre-
taceous or Austrian tectogenesis around 110100 Ma and
the Late Cretaceous or Laramian tectogenesis around 75
65 Ma (Iancu 1985; Balintoni et al. 1989; Iancu et al. 1990;
Berza et al. 1994b). In 1996 an Austrian group of geologists
(Willingshofer et al. 2001) sampled granite pebbles from the
red conglomerates at Clopotiva, on the southern border of
Haþeg Basin. Samples HA 26 and HA 28 revealed zircon FT
ages of 82±10 and 52±4 Ma, typical of Getic samples and
bracketing the exhumation of the Getic basement. However,
these granites were ascribed by Willingshofer et al. (2001) to
the Danubian basement, as well as detritic minerals and peb-
bles from the Maastrichtian Sînpetru Formation from the cen-
tre of the Haþeg Basin, presumed to underlie the red conglom-
erates. This assumption has led Willingshofer et al. (2001) to
propose a geological model relating basin formation to base-
ment tectonics, presented in their Fig. 7 as two cartoons. The
first depicts the supposed situation for the AptianSantonian/
Campanian Stage (11283 Ma), with the Supragetic/Getic,
Getic/Danubian and Danubian/Moesian Platform overthrust-
ings ongoing in a WNWESE convergence régime and sedi-
mentation excusively with Getic material occurring in the
Haþeg piggy-back basin on the Getic Nappe (their Fig. 7a).
This model contradicts the known pre-Albian age (>110 Ma)
of the Supragetic/Getic thrusts and the proved post-Campa-
nian (<70 Ma) age of the Getic/Danubian and Danubian/
Moesian Platform overthrusts (Iancu 1985; Iancu et al. 1990;
Berza et al. 1994b; Berza & Iancu 1994; Berza 1997). The
second cartoon (their Fig. 7b), imagined for the Campanian?
Late Maastrichtian/Paleogene Stage (8355 Ma), presents the
Danubian basement exposed in the Þarcu-Retezat Dome
through tectonic denudation caused by the Getic detachement
(sensu Schmid et al. 1998), nourishing with sediments the
Haþeg Basin resting on the Getic Unit (nappe). This cartoon is
the last expression of previous attempts to demonstrate, using
fission-track measurements on apatite and/or zircon crystals
(Neubauer et al. 1997; Willingshofer et al. 1999a,b; Willings-
hofer 2000), that the exhumation by a combination of detach-
ment faulting and erosion of the Danubian nappes started in
the western Southern Carpathians as early as the Late Creta-
On the other hand, similar structural and fission-track stud-
ies by Bojar et al. (1998), Sanders (1998), Schmid et al.
(1998), Maþenco & Schmid (1999), Füegenschuh et al.
(1999), Füegenschuh & Schmid (2001) have advocated an
Eocene-Early Oligocene exhumation of the Danubian nappes.
Moreover, in a study of FT ages of detrital apatite grains from
the Petroºani Basin, Moser (2001) found in Upper Paleogene
to Lower Miocene sediments (3016 Ma) only crystals com-
ing from the Getic Nappe, the first Danubian crystals occur-
ring in the Middle Miocene sediments (1511 Ma) from the
eastern part of the basin. Previous Romanian studies have
documented exhumation by erosion of the Danubian forma-
tions only as late as the Oligocene to Miocene, with the ex-
ception of papers by Grigorescu (1983), Anastasiu & Csobu-
ka (1989) and Grigorescu et al. (1990), who advocated the
presence of Danubian granitoid and metamorphic pebbles in
the latest Cretaceous deposits of the Haþeg Basin. Granites,
gneisses, amphibolites and chlorite schists (or mylonites) are,
however, common in the basements of both Getic and Danu-
bian Units, and discriminating them needs petrological stud-
ies, far from the paleontological or sedimentological approach
of the quoted authors. Marin Seclãman, author of a PhD thesis
on the petrology of the Getic basement in the Strei Valley,
considers the pebbles from the Cretaceous conglomerates in
the Haþeg Basin to represent only Getic basement-derived
rocks (personal communication, 2001).
I present here a comparison of the mineralogy and chemis-
try of a granitic pebble, similar and from the same outcrop at
Clopotiva as samples HA 26 and HA 28, supposed by Will-
ingshofer et al. (2001) to come from the southerly located Re-
tezat pluton of the Danubian basement, with the mineralogy
and chemistry of Retezat granitoids. This petrological ap-
proach is necessary before the use of pebble proveniance for
or against the timing of the start of Danubian exhumation as
early as 7060 Ma ago, or the period of sedimentation of the
Upper MaastrichtianPaleogene(?) red conglomerates of the
Red conglomerates on the southern border of the
Haþeg Basin is a complex term, in the geographical sense in-
volving the present low (500 m) area around the town of
Haþeg, 40 × 20 km in size, surrounded by mountains reaching
more than 2000 m, where thick Quaternary deposits cover
Neogene, Paleogene and Cretaceous detrital formations, lying
on Jurassic limestones of the Getic Nappe cover, or directly on
various crystalline schists of the Getic Nappe basement. In the
Romanian geological literature, the Cretaceous detrital forma-
tions (review in Willingshofer et al. 2001) are also ascribed to
the Getic Nappe cover, only the Paleogene and Neogene for-
mations being labelled as post-nappe covers. While general
agreement exists on the Getic origin of the material for the Al-
bian to Campanian detrital formations, some papers by Grig-
orescu and Anastasiu claim a Danubian origin for sediments in
the Maastrichtian formations. The latter are paleontologically
dated (review in Grigorescu 1983) and contain, beside con-
glomerates and sandstones, also rhyolitic volcaniclastic mate-
rial an important source of apatite and zircon crystals with
Late Cretaceous FT age. Zircon FT data of Willingshofer et al.
(2001) of a volcaniclastic rock is 80±9 Ma according to their
Table 1 and Figs. 4, 5 and 6, but in the text (p. 388) they inter-
pret the youngest and best defined age component (61±4 Ma)
as dating the volcanic event. This is a much too young age in
relation to the U-Pb (Nicolescu et al. 1999; von Quadt et al.
2003) and Re-Os (Ciobanu et al. 2002) dating of the Late Cre-
taceous magmatism in the Romanian and Serbian Southern
Carpathians at 7585 Ma and the 80 Ma age from their Table1
corresponds better to the isotopic dating, but is too old in rela-
tion to the Maastrichtian time shown by the paleontological
Red conglomerates crop out on the south border of the
Haþeg morphological basin West of the Sebiºel Valley, bor-
dered southwards by a normal fault against the Danubian
(West of Râu de Mori) or Getic (East of Râu de Mori) crystal-
line basement and covered northwards by Quaternary deposits
(Fig. 1). Lacking paleontological records and stratigraphic
GRANITIC PEBBLES IN UPPER CRETACEOUS RED CONGLOMERATES OF THE HAÞEG BASIN
Fig. 1. A geologic sketch of the Haþeg Basin and surrounding mountains (Southern Carpathians), redrawn after Berza, Iancu, Seghedi &
Drãgãnescu, in Berza & Iancu (1994).
borders with older sedimentary deposits, these red deposits
have been considered to top the Maastrichtian deposits, and
were ascribed by various authors to the Danian (6561 Ma), to
the Paleogene (6534 Ma), or to a MaastrichtianPaleocene(?)
(7155 Ma) composite age. They represent a mainly coarse-
grained (boulders up to 0.5 m) sequence, but sandstone and
clay strata are locally found, all with the typical red colour.
The conglomerates offer red outcrops, due to a red to violet
varnish of the boulders, indicating oxidative conditions. The
pebbles represent granites (5060 %) and various metamor-
phic rocks (amphibolites, biotite gneisses, migmatites, mylo-
nites). The high proportion of granites do not match well with
the Getic basement, even if these are frequent in the Strei Ba-
sin, but suggests a Danubian origin, since south of the Haþeg
Basin several granitoid plutons outcrop at present time in the
basement of the Danubian nappes. The most important one is
the Retezat pluton (Berza et al. 1994a), now visible on
in the Retezat Mountains,
but also as countless
boulders and pebbles in the Quaternary deposits of the Haþeg
Geochemical and petrographical characterization
A comparison of the petrography and geochemistry of a
granite pebble (R-437) from the Clopotiva red conglomerates
with Retezat granitoids gives the following results. The gran-
ite pebble, medium grained (25 mm), is composed of micro-
cline, quartz and plagioclase, with some biotite and musco-
vite. The accessory minerals are apatite, zircon and ores. No
primary epidote is present, a marked difference with the Re-
tezat granitoids (Berza et al. 1994a). The structure is mylonitic
with a weak foliation expressed by the orientation of fine-
grained layers of recrystallized material. K-feldspar phenoclasts
with patchy extinction and fracturing are embedded in a ma-
trix, made up of fine-grained quartz, coarser saussuritized pla-
gioclase clasts, and micas. Quartz may locally develop larger
elongated crystals. Biotite, completely oxidized (by Creta-
ceous weathering?), and muscovite (fresh) occur as large, de-
formed, bent or sheared grains, as well as in the matrix, where
muscovite obviously recrystallized in the foliation. All these
characters point to a deformation at a higher temperature
(chlorite is unstable) than for the Retezat granitoids (chlorite
The chemical composition of the sample R-437 is presented
in Table 1, major elements and trace elements being measured
by a combination of XRF and ICP-MS methods (Bologne &
Duchesne 1991; Vander Auwera et al. 1998) at the Geologi-
cal, Petrological and Geochemical Associated Laboratories of
the University of Liège (Belgium).
Berza et al. (1994a) have presented major element data for
157 Retezat granitoids ranging from diorites to granites, sam-
pled along a 1 km grid and analysed by the wet chemical
method; their minimum, maximum and average values for the
12 analysed granites are presented in Table 2. At similar SiO
contents, sample R-437 is strikingly poorer in CaO
O and richer in K
O and FeO+Fe
Berza & Tatu (2002) have presented geochemical data for
Retezat granitoids obtained in the same laboratory and with
the same methods as for sample R-437. The lower content of
CaO (Fig. 2a) is confirmed, just as the higher K
(Fig. 2b); accordingly, the Sr content is lower (Fig. 2c) and
the Rb content higher (Fig. 2d).
In the Pearce et al. (1984) discrimination diagram (Fig. 3),
sample R-437 plots in the field of syncollisional granites,
while the Retezat granitoids plot in the field of arc granites.
Chondrite-normalized REE pattern for R-437 plots in the
area of the Retezat granitoids (Fig. 4, upper diagram), but the
MORB-normalized (Pearce 1983) spidergram pattern shows
for R-437 positive differences for K and Th and negative ones
for Sr compared with the Retezat granitoids (Fig. 4, lower dia-
The geochemical comparison made on a granite pebble
from the red conglomerate at Clopotiva does not confirm its
origin from the Retezat Massif. Evidently, there are also many
other granites in the Danubian basement, but the Retezat plu-
ton, mentioned by the geologists claiming a Danubian origin
for the granite pebbles in the Upper MaastrichtianPaleo-
gene(?) red conglomerates of Haþeg Basin, is not sustained as
The Late Cretaceous was undoubtedly a crucial time in the
evolution of the realms now incorporated in the nappe pile ex-
posed in the Southern Carpathians. Following mid-Cretaceous
nappe stacking (Balintoni et al. 1989), detrital covers which
accumulated on the Getic-Supragetic upper plate are now pre-
served in several basins: Brezoi, Iscroni, Haþeg, Rusca Mon-
tanã, Deva, ªopot. Some of these basins contain calc-alkaline
volcanics and intrusions described in the local geological lit-
erature as Banatites, recently reviewed in a general Car-
pathian-Balkan context by Berza et al. (1998). In the other
realm, now the lower plate, Cenomanian-Turonian pre-flysch
and Late TuronianEarly Maastrichtian flysch sequences
(Stãnoiu 1997) were deposited and some are preserved in var-
ious Danubian nappes (Berza et al. 1994b), testifying to an ac-
Table 2: Chemical data (average and limits) for 12 Retezat granites (from Berza et al. 1994a).
Table 1: Chemical composition of sample R-437.
GRANITIC PEBBLES IN UPPER CRETACEOUS RED CONGLOMERATES OF THE HAÞEG BASIN
Fig. 3. Rb versus Y+Nb diagram for R-437 (cross) and Retezat
granitoids (triangles, squares and rhombs).
tive margin régime outwards. The model of Willingshofer et
al. (2001) involves Danubian accretion to the Getic plate from
the AptianSantonian/Campanian Stage (their Fig. 7a) and
coeval sedimentation only innerwards on the Getic Unit and
outwards on the Moesian Platform. It ignores the Danubian
Late Cretaceous flysch present at the top of various Upper and
Lower Danubian nappes, being in conflict with basic facts rel-
evant for the geology of the Southern Carpathians. As for the
second stage, Campanian?Late Maastrichtian/Paleogene
(their Fig. 7b), when Danubian units are supposed to nourish
Fig. 2. Comparison of sample R-437 (cross) and Retezat granites (triangles, squares and rhombs). a CaO versus SiO
diagram; b Sr
diagram; c K
O versus SiO
diagram; d Rb versus SiO
Fig. 4. Upper diagram: Chondrite-normalized REE patterns for R-437
(cross) and Retezat granitoids (grey area). Lower diagram: MORB-
normalized (Pearce 1983) trace-element patterns for R-437 (cross)
and Retezat granitoids (grey area).
La Ce Pr Nd PmSm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu
Sr K Rb Ba Th Ta Nb Ce P Zr Hf Sm Ti Y Yb
the Haþeg Basin on the Getic Unit, there is no direct evidence
for this situation, since the supposed Retezat granite pebbles
in the red conglomerates at Clopotiva are not related with the
Danubian Retezat Massif from the Þarcu-Retezat Dome and
seemingly represent Getic granitoids. This leaves room for the
model of Schmid et al. (1998) of an Eocene to Early Oli-
gocene age of the normal faulting leading to core complex
formation and exhumation of the Danubian, in a process of
Acknowledgments: I thank the Collective Interinstitutionel
de Géochimie Instrumentale (University of Liège, Belgium,
Dir: Prof. J.C. Duchesne) for analytical facilities and G. Bo-
logne and Dr. M. Tatu for the analysis of sample R-437. Dr.
V. Iancu is warmly acknowledged for redrawing Fig. 1 and
Dr. M. Tatu for editing the Figs. 2, 3 and 4 and the Tables 1
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