GEOLOGICA CARPATHICA, DECEMBER 2008, 59, 6, 525—535
Introduction, geological setting and objectives
The internal zones of the Betic-Rifian Chain (Fig. 1) are
characterized by the superimposition of several basement
nappes, belonging to the Alboran terranes (Chalouan et al.
2001; Michard et al. 2002) and commonly re-grouped, from
the bottom to the top, into the Nevado-Filabrides Units (not
present in the Rif), Ghomaride/Malaguide, Sebtide/Alpujar-
ride Units (Morocco/Spain, respectively) and “Dorsale Cal-
caire” Units (so-called in the Rifian Chain from the French
geological literature after Fallot 1937), which were located
in a distinct domain extending south of the Ghomaride/
Malaguide Realm (Wildi 1983; Serrano et al. 2006).
Oligocene-Miocene sandstone suites from the Gibraltar and
Calabria-Peloritani Arcs: provenance changes and
Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania, Corso Italia n. 57, 95129 Catania, Italy; firstname.lastname@example.org
(Manuscript received March 11, 2008; accepted in revised form June 12, 2008)
Abstract: Oligocene-Miocene turbiditic flows which formed thick sedimentary successions cropping out in the internal
sectors of the Betic-Maghrebian Chain, Tell and Calabria-Peloritani Arc, are commonly related to the dismantling of pre-
Alpine crystalline basements. These are now included in different tectonic edifices along the central-western peri-
Mediterranean Alpine Chain but originally they could have belonged to the same crustal block, known as the AlKaPeCa
Block (Al = Alboran, southern Spain and northern Morocco, Ka = Kabylian, Algeria, and PeCa = Calabria-Peloritani Arc).
Detrital modes from Oligocene-Miocene late-orogenic sandstone suites, unconformably overlying the uppermost struc-
tural units of the Betic-Rifian Chain and the Rifian “Dorsale Calcaire” Units, show a provenance closely related to source
areas mainly formed by Mesozoic carbonate sedimentary covers and, partially, by very slightly metamorphic rocks. In
contrast, sandstones of equivalent late-orogenic successions from the Calabria-Peloritani Arc appear to be mainly derived
by the erosion of high rank metamorphic and plutonic sources, which can be identified with the Hercynian basement rocks,
now forming the highest structural units of the Arc. This bimodality of provenance (carbonate covers with, partially,
epimetamorphic sources against a mainly plutonic and/or gneissic supply in the Gibraltar and Calabria-Peloritani Arcs,
respectively) occurring between coeval late-orogenic sandstone suites, equivalent for age, geological significance and
structural position, can be justified by admitting that the Internal Domains, which played a role as sediment sources, did not
belong to the same crustal block or they were already separated as the consequence of an incipient break-out and fragmen-
tation of the AlKaPeCa Block before the Late Oligocene (age of the base of the studied late-orogenic deposits).
Key words: Oligocene—Miocene, Betic-Rifian Chain, Calabria-Peloritani Arc, paleogeography, provenance, sedimentary
petrography, turbidite sandstone suites.
The highest tectonic units (Ghomaride/Malaguide Nappes;
Figs. 2 and 3) mainly consist of very slightly metamorphic
Paleozoic successions subdivided, in the Rifian Chain, into
minor thrust sheets unconformably covered by Mesozoic-
Tertiary sedimentary deposits (Chalouan 1986; Chalouan &
The Mesozoic sedimentary formations are composed of Tri-
assic reddish quartzose sandstones and conglomerates and
Upper Triassic dolomites and Liassic limestones, related to
the Tethyan rifting. The younger deposits (Late Eocene Num-
mulitic limestones and carbonate conglomerates) are collected
in a detrital marine sequence post-dating an early Alpine com-
pressive event (Maate 1996; Martin-Algarra et al. 2000).
Fig. 1. Sketch map of the Alpine chains in the central-western Mediterranean region. 1 – Internal Domain Units; 2 – “Dorsale Calcaire”
Units; 3 – Flysch Domain Units; 4 – Betic and Maghrebian External Units; 5 – Apenninic External Units; 6 – Foredeep and Foreland.
The “Dorsale Calcaire” Units also represent remnants
of a Mesozoic carbonate cover, made up of a Jurassic-
Cretaceous carbonate platform evolving into terrigenous
deposits during Eocene—Oligocene times (Wildi 1983).
These “Dorsale Calcaire” Units, in fact, have been regard-
ed as a lateral equivalent of the Mesozoic-Cenozoic cover
of the Ghomaride Units (Wildi 1983; Maate 1996, with
references therein), detached from the uppermost Sebtide
Units and piled up in front of the Ghomaride realm. These
units have been subdivided into External and Internal
“Dorsale Calcaire” Units by Nold et al. (1981) and Olivi-
er (1984) on the basis of the different sedimentary facies
related to deep-sea and platform successions of external
and internal sectors, respectively.
In the Rif, some of the Ghomaride Units, as well as the
“Dorsale Calcaire” Units, are unconformably overlain and
sealed by Oligocene-Miocene successions (Durand-Delga
& Fontboté 1980; Feinberg et al. 1990; Maate et al. 1995),
organized in sandstone suites with arenaceous, pelitic and
thick conglomeratic lithofacies (Zaghloul et al. 2003).
These terrigenous deposits are well known in the Rif, in
the Betic Cordillera and in the internal domains of the
easternmost Maghrebian Chain (Kabylides and Calabria-
Peloritani Arc sectors). They have been formally subdivid-
ed into the following two sedimentary cycles (Chalouan
1987; Martin-Algarra 1987; Maate 1996; Martin-Algarra et
Fig. 2. Geological sketch map of the Internal Zones of the Rifian Chain (after Suter 1980; Chalouan 1986 and Chalouan & Michard 1990).
Black and white asterisks = External and Internal “Dorsale Calcaire Units” (Saaden, Bettara, Ametrasse Sections and Jbel Myath, Jebha
Sections, respectively); black and white squares = Ciudad Granada-Fnideq Formation Cycle and Vi±uela-Sidi Abdesslam Formation Cycle
(Fnideq and Sidi Abdesslam Formations, respectively).
Fig. 3. Geological sketch map of the eastern Betic Cordillera (after
Lonergan 1991, modified).
PROVENANCE OF OLIGOCENE-MIOCENE SANDSTONE (GIBRALTAR AND CALABRIA-PELORITANI ARCS)
al. 2000; Serrano et al. 2006, 2007): the Ciudad Granada-
Fnideq Formation Cycle (Upper Oligocene-Early Miocene
boundary) and Vi±uela-Sidi Abdesslam Formation Cycle
(mainly Lower Burdigalian).
Puglisi et al. (2001) first recognized the possibility of the
comparison with the syn- and late-orogenic flysch deposits
marking the younger successions involved in the deformations
of the basement nappes and the oldest ones unconformably
overlying the Calabria-Peloritani tectonic edifice, respectively
The Vi±uela-Sidi Abdesslam Formation Cycle, in particu-
lar, is well known all along the Maghrebian Chain where it
can be compared with the tectonic-sedimentary evolution of
the internal domains of the Kabylian massifs (“Oligo-Mi-
ne Kabyle”, Géry et al. 1981 and references therein).
Similarly, the Stilo-Capo d’Orlando Formation (Puglisi 1998
and references therein) represents the tectonic-sedimentary
evolution of the Calabria-Peloritani Arc.
Thus, the aim of this paper is to discuss the recently col-
lected petrographic data from these Oligocene-Miocene tur-
biditic successions of the Betic-Rifian Chain and to compare
them with those of equivalent sedimentary successions from
the Calabria-Peloritani Arc. The petrographic characters of
these sandstones and their provenance are discussed and in-
terpreted here in order to debate the paleogeographic context
of the Internal Domains, supposed to be the sediment sourc-
es of the analysed arenaceous successions.
Furthermore, the paleogeographic evolution of these areas
is detected here and tentatively related to the Late Oligocene
rifting phase which widely affected the western Mediterra-
nean region, as a prelude to the Miocene opening of new
oceanic areas (Cherchi & Montandert 1982; Rehault et al.
1984, 1985; Dercourt et al. 1986; Boccaletti et al. 1990).
Detrital modes of sandstones and related
The sandstones of the Ciudad Granada-Fnideq Formation
Cycle come from the Betic Cordillera (Rio Pliego Formation
Fig. 4. Geological sketch map of the Calabria-Peloritani Arc showing the outcrops of the Oligocene-Miocene sandstone suites compared in
Auct.; Guerrera et al. 1997; Gigliuto 2005) and from the Rif
(Fnideq Formation; Puglisi et al. 2001; Zaghloul et al. 2003).
The sandstones of the Vi±uela-Sidi Abdesslam Formation
Cycle were sampled in the Betic Cordillera (El Ni±o Forma-
tion Auct.; Gigliuto 2005) and in the Rif (Sidi Abdesslam
Formation; Puglisi et al. 2001; Zaghloul et al. 2003).
Table 1 lists the means and standard deviations of the de-
trital modes of Oligocene-Miocene sandstones collected from
several logs sampled in the internal sectors of the Betic-Rifian
Chain (Figs. 2 and 3) and from coeval and equivalent turbidite
successions of the Calabria-Peloritani Arc (Fig. 4).
Modal data from all the sandstones have been acquired us-
ing the same methodology, consisting of modal point count-
ing in thin section, performed according to the criteria
suggested by Gazzi (1966), Dickinson (1970) and by Gazzi
et al. (1973), in order to minimize the dependence of the
rock composition on grain size.
Table 1 also includes the Qm, F and Lt parameters
(Monocrystalline Quartz, Feldspars and Total Lithic Frag-
ments, respectively), suggested by Graham et al. (1976) and
by Dickinson & Suczek (1979) as a means of recognizing the
provenance of the clastic supply.
Quartz is nearly always present and, locally, it is the most
abundant mineral. Thus, in order to appreciate the contribu-
tion of different lithologies of the sources areas, the detrital
quartz has been distinguished in monocrystalline and poly-
crystalline quartz grains (Table 1), the first ones representative
of coarse-grained plutonic and/or high rank metamorphic
rocks, whereas the second ones are supposed to be derived
mainly from fine-grained epimetamorphites.
High contents of feldspars are present only in the late-oro-
genic Oligocene-Miocene sandstone suites of the Calabria-
Peloritani Arc. In fact, all the sandstones of equivalent
successions of the Betic-Rifian Chain are almost completely
devoid of feldspars (Figs. 5 and 6) or, if present, they never
exceed 4.0—4.5 %. In particular, feldspars are practically ab-
sent in the sandstones of the Internal and External “Dorsale
Scarcity or lack of feldspars is balanced by a relative abun-
dance of lithic fragments, mainly represented by (a) an al-
Table 1: Comparison between the detrital modes of the Oligocene-Miocene sandstones suites from the internal domains of the Betic, Rifian
and Sicilian Maghrebian Chains.
most exclusive carbonate fraction in the Internal “Dorsale
Calcaire” sandstones (Zaghloul et al. 2005; Fig. 5), (b) fine-
grained very slightly metamorphic rocks, such as quartzites,
semischists and metasedimentary rocks, mixed with carbon-
ate rock fragments (micritic limestones, calcarenites, oolitic
limestones and rarely fossils) in the External “Dorsale Cal-
caire” sandstones (Gigliuto et al. 2003; Gigliuto 2005) and
by (c) metasedimentary up to epimetamorphic rock frag-
ments in the sandstones of the Ciudad Granada-Fnideq and
Vi±uela-Sidi Abdesslam Formation Cycles (Fig. 6; Puglisi et
al. 2001; Zaghloul et al. 2003).
So, the provenance of the Internal “Dorsale Calcaire”
sandstones can be related to the erosion of carbonate succes-
sions, probably representing the Mesozoic-Cenozoic cover
of the Paleozoic basement, partially formed by epimetamor-
phic rocks, as testified by the rare occurrence of similar
clasts (not more than 5.0—6.0 %, Zaghloul et al. 2005). Prov-
enance of the External Dorsale Calcaire sandstones, instead,
PROVENANCE OF OLIGOCENE-MIOCENE SANDSTONE (GIBRALTAR AND CALABRIA-PELORITANI ARCS)
Fig. 5. Detrital frameworks of Oligocene-Miocene arenites from Internal and External “Dorsale Calcaire” (a and b, respectively) and from
sandstone suites unconformably overlying the Ghomaride Units (c and d: Sidi Abdesslam Formation, Rif) and the Malaguide Units (e and
f: El Ni±o Formation, Betic Chain). Feldspars are nearly always absent and polycrystalline quartz grains (c, d and e), carbonate rock frag-
ments and fossils (mainly macroforaminiferal remnants, a and e) are the most common components of the lithic fraction.
seems to be linked to a deeper erosion level which more
strongly affected the Paleozoic basement, as the result of un-
roofing processes and higher erosion rates (Zaghloul et al.
This type of provenance has already been suggested for
the Ametrasse Unit by Wildi (1983), which also found at the
top of the succession rare pebbles of Paleozoic schists and
gneiss, and by Maate et al. (1993) in the Saaden Unit. Puglisi
et al. (2001) and Gigliuto et al. (2003) recognized this simi-
lar provenance in both these units and interpreted the in-
crease of the crystalline clast content as a consequence of up-
lift and/or overthrust tectonic deformations in the source
Finally, the sandstones belonging to the Ciudad Granada-
Fnideq Formation Cycle (Q
and Betics, respectively) and to the Vi±uela-Sidi Abdesslam
Formation Cycle (Q
, Rif and Bet-
ics, respectively; Table 1, Fig. 6 and references therein) show a
composition considerably more siliciclastic, with mi-
nor amounts of carbonate rock fragments. Anyway,
this type of detrital framework, characterized by abun-
dant metasedimentary and epimetamorphic rock frag-
ments, also seems to confirm the same provenance of
the External “Dorsale Calcaire” sandstones and to ex-
clude a contribution from plutonic and/or high grade
metamorphic sources (Zaghloul et al. 2003).
In contrast, the late-orogenic Oligocene-Miocene
sandstone suites of the Calabria-Peloritani Arc show an
arkosic composition well marked by relatively high
contents of feldspars, both K-feldspars and plagioclas-
es (Carmisciano & Puglisi 1978a,b; 1982). This com-
position has been related to granitic and/or gneissic
sources, tentatively identified with the rocks of the As-
promonte Unit (Puglisi 1991, 1992, 1994), the upper-
most structural unit of the tectonic edifice forming the
In this paper the comparison has also been extended
to the Lower Oligocene syn-orogenic successions of
the Calabria-Peloritani Arc (i.e. Frazzan
Piedimonte Formation) with the aim of verifying the
occurrence of compositional changes over time.
On the whole, this type of provenance seems to char-
acterize all these turbidite successions of the Calabria-
Peloritani Arc with small differences linked to the
tectonic evolution and to the differential uplift of the
internal sectors of this paleodomain (Puglisi 1998).
Thus, in any case a provenance from granitic and/or
gneissic sources is also supported by geochemical data
related to the major-oxide compositions of the sand-
stones and by further petrographic information regard-
ing the structural character of the plagioclase twins
(Puglisi 1994, 1998).
Fig. 6. Detrital modes of sandstones from Oligocene-Miocene late-orogenic successions of the Internal Domains of the Betic (El Ni±o, Rio
Pliego Fms), Rifian (Sidi Abdesslam and Fnideq Formations, Internal and External “Dorsale Calcaire”) and Sicilian Maghrebian Chains
(Stilo-Capo d’Orlando Formation); these last also include modal data regarding syn-orogenic successions (i.e. Piedimonte Formation and
Flysch). Two distinct areas characterize the compositional fields of the sandstone suites: left and right side of the diagram for the
Sicilian Maghrebian and Betic-Rifian Chains (dashed line and grey area, respectively).
Fig. 7. Maturity and Differentiation Indexes of the late-orogenic Oligocene-
Miocene sandstone suites of the Calabria-Peloritani Arc (references in Ta-
ble 1), compared with terrigenous and magmatic rocks of the literature (data
from Garrels & Mackenzie 1971) and with plutonic and high rank metamor-
phic rocks of the Calabria-Peloritani Arc (data from Atzori et al. 1976, 1985,
1988, 1989; Atzori & Lo Giudice 1982a,b; D’Amico et al. 1982).
PROVENANCE OF OLIGOCENE-MIOCENE SANDSTONE (GIBRALTAR AND CALABRIA-PELORITANI ARCS)
In fact, by using traditional parameters such as the Maturi-
ty [log (SiO
)] and Differentiation Indexes [log
(CaO + Na
O)] and according to Garrels & Macken-
zie’s (1971) diagram (Fig. 7), a perfect correspondence be-
tween the Stilo-Capo d’Orlando sandstones and the syn- to
late-Hercynian plutonites of the Aspromonte Unit has been
verified (Puglisi 1998).
Further information about the clastic provenance of these
turbidite successions have also been obtained by Puglisi
(1998) by analysing the different populations of the plagio-
clase twins, according to the Gorai’s (1951) suggestions,
successively re-worked by Tobi (1962), Pittman (1970) and
The ternary diagram of Fig. 8 (after Puglisi 1998) shows
the relative frequencies between untwinned and twinned pla-
gioclases, these last subdivided into A-twins (albite and peri-
cline laws) and C-twins (all the other laws; Gorai 1951), for
various plutonic, volcanic and metamorphic rocks. The pla-
gioclase twins of the late-orogenic Oligocene-Miocene sand-
stone suites of the Calabria-Peloritani Arc (Stilo-Capo
d’Orlando Formation) show strong affinity with the granitic-
granodioritic field, thus suggesting a provenance mainly
linked to plutonic sources, already hypothesized by the
geochemical character of the sandstones.
The Quartz-Feldspars-Lithic Fragments ternary plot of
Fig. 6 shows the above mentioned differences of composi-
tion between the coeval and equivalent sandstone suites of
the internal sectors of the Gibraltar and Calabria-Peloritani
Arcs. Very distinct quartzose-lithic and quartzose-feldspath-
ic compositions (right and left side of the diagram), in fact,
Fig. 8. Diagram showing the frequencies of untwinned and twinned
plagioclases (these last subdivided in C- and A-twins, see text) rec-
ognized within the Oligocene-Miocene sandstone suites of the Cala-
bria-Peloritani Arc (from Puglisi 1998) and compared with various
plutonic and metamorphic rocks (from Gorai 1951).
characterize the Oligocene-Miocene arenaceous products of
the internal sectors of the Betic-Rifian Chain and of the Cal-
abria-Peloritani Arc, respectively. In particular, the wide area
comprising the compositions of the Internal “Dorsale Cal-
caire” sandstones is due to the dispersal of the carbonate rock
contents which is not constant in all the analysed sections.
Paleogeographic and paleotectonic setting of the
The provenance of the Oligocene-Miocene sandstone suites
cropping out in the internal sectors of the Betic-Maghrebian
Chains is commonly connected to the dismantling of the so-
called AlKaPeCa Block (Al = Alboran, southern Spain and
northern Morocco, Ka = Kabylian, Algeria, PeCa = Calabria-
Peloritani Arc, sensu Bouillin et al. 1986).
The original location of this source area is still strongly de-
bated. Many authors, in fact, consider this area as belonging
to the southern paleomargin of the Iberian Plate (Biju-Duval
et al. 1977; Bouillin et al. 1986, 2007; Stampfli et al. 1998;
Sanz de Galdeano et al. 1993, 2001; Rosenbaum et al. 2002;
Mauffret et al. 2004; Schettino & Turco 2006), whereas oth-
er authors hypothesize the existence of an independent mi-
croplate located between the European and African Plates
according to Andrieux et al. (1971), Andrieux & Mattauer
(1973) and Guerrera et al. (1993).
The first paleogeographic hypothesis, accepted here,
seems to reach the higest consensus because it is strongly
supported by much data.
Thus, on the base of the above-mentioned data, it is pos-
sible to emphasize a strong difference of composition be-
tween the Oligocene-Miocene sandstone suites of the
internal domains of the Gibraltar and Calabria-Peloritani
Arcs. Consequently, these different detrital modes charac-
terize sedimentary provenances which cannot be linked to
the same paleogeographic scenario.
Two different interpretations can be suggested to justify
this evidence. The first one hypothesizes that the Betic-Rifi-
an and Calabria-Peloritani internal sectors might not belong
to the same paleodomain, already identified with the
AlKaPeCa Block; they could have been distinctly separated,
thus forming different source areas supplying different sedi-
mentary basins not necessarily adjacent.
In contrast, if these sectors really belonged to the same
AlKaPeCa Block, the different provenances described above
can be justified by admitting that these sediment sources
were already separated at the beginning of the deposition of
the described Oligocene-Miocene sedimentary successions.
This hypothesis is adopted here because strongly supported
by recent studies regarding the opening and the geodynamic
evolution of the western Mediterranean basins.
In fact, Rosenbaum et al. (2002) suggest that the extension
in the western Mediterranean started 32—30 Ma and Cavazza
& Wezel (2003) even recognize that the Mediterranean rifting
occurred from the Early Oligocene by inducing the develop-
ment of several grabens in southern France and Sardinia,
both on-land and offshore. Schettino & Turco (2006), in
their recent plate reconstruction, also admit that extensional
activity was already occurring in the late Rupelian and that a
short time span (31.1 to 28.0 Ma) brought completion of the
formation of the Valencia trough, considered to be slightly
younger than the Gulf of Lion and slightly older than the
opening of other oceanic spaces, such as the Provençal Basin
and the west Alboran Sea (Rosenbaum et al. 2002).
These extensional processes, mainly governed by subduc-
tion rollback coupled with a relatively slow convergence be-
tween Africa and Europe, occurred on the overriding plate in
a back-arc position (Rosenbaum et al. 2002). Successively,
extensional tectonics also occurred in the fore-arc region to
form the Corsica, Sardinia and Algeria Basins together with
the above-mentioned west Alboran Basin (Mauffret et al.
In conclusion, these extensional processes triggered the
break-up of the AlKaPeCa Block and the drifting of all the
microplates as long as subduction rollback took place
(Rosenbaum et al. 2002) and until they accreted to the adja-
cent continents by largely undergoing tectonic deformations
in the Alpine orogeny (Stampfli et al. 1998).
On the basis of the evidence of an incipient fragmentation
of the AlKaPeCa Block it is possible to hypothesize a paleo-
geographic scenario where the different microplates were al-
ready widely separated in the middle Chattian (Fig. 9) in
order to justify different supplies in different sedimentary
This tectonic control both in the source areas and in the ba-
sins suggests further inquiries on tectonic and stratigraphic
evolution (vertical and lateral) of the petrographic composi-
tion of the sedimentary successions.
Thus, progressive dismantling of these already separated
different crustal sectors, not necessarily formed by the same
type of rocks, fed several sedimentary basins with diversified
detrital products. These sedimentary deposits can correspond
to the Oligocene-Miocene sandstone suites of the internal ar-
eas of the Gibraltar and Calabria-Peloritani Arcs, whose
sandstones show different compositions connected to a dis-
Furthermore, it is well known that (a) in the Rifian Chain
the emplacement of the different Ghomarides Units and also
the Ghomarides/Sebtides tectonic contact would be anteced-
ent to the Oligocene/Miocene boundary (Feinberg et al.
1990; Maate et al. 1995; Serrano et al. 2006, 2007), because
it is sealed by the Ciudad Granada-Fnideq Formation Cycle,
as well as (b) in the Calabria-Peloritani Arc the Alpine
nappes with remnants of Hercynian basement were already
piled up before the unconformable deposition of the Upper
Oligocene—Lower Miocene Stilo-Capo d’Orlando Formation
(Puglisi 1998 and references therein).
Thus, it is possible to emphasize that all the AlKaPeCa-de-
rived microplates were already separated, widely drifted and
partially accreted onto the different African sectors before
the Late Oligocene (age of the base of the analysed succes-
sions) and not during and/or after the Burdigalian (Martin-
Algarra et al. 2000; Bonardi et al. 2003).
Acknowledgments: Financial support was provided by the
Italian MURST as a Grant to D. Puglisi. Author wishes to
thank F. Loiacono (University of Bari, Italy), C. Sanz de
Galdeano Equiza (University of Granada, Spain) and E. Tur-
Fig. 9. Paleogeographic evolution of the western Mediterranean area during late Cretaceous—late Oligocene times up to the beginning of
break-up of the AlKaPeCa Block, supposed to be originally located in the southern paleomargin of Iberia (modified after Cassola et al.
PROVENANCE OF OLIGOCENE-MIOCENE SANDSTONE (GIBRALTAR AND CALABRIA-PELORITANI ARCS)
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