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Pb isotopes define basement domains of the Altiplano,

central Andes
S. J. Aitcheson Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PR, United Kingdom
R. S. Harmon U.S. Army Research Office, P.O. Box 12211, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709
S. Moorbath Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PR, United Kingdom
A. Schneider TVX GOLD, 11 Septiembre 2353, Santiago, Chile
P. Soler ORSTOM, Departement Terre-Ocean-Atmosphe`re, 213 rue Lafayette, 75480 Paris cedex 10, France
E. Soria-Escalante Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PR, United Kingdom
G. Steele EMICRUZ (COMSUR/RTZ JV), Casilla 4326, La Paz, Bolivia
I. Swainbank Natural Environment Research Council Isotope Geosciences Laboratories, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG,
United Kingdom

G. Worner Geochemisches Institut, Universitat Gottingen, D-37077 Gottingen, Germany

Detailed Pb isotopic maps of the central Andes, based on 345
(163 previously published, 182 new) analyses of ores, volcanic rocks,
and their host rocks, elucidate the gross structure of the basement and reveal that several isotopically distinct basement domains
are juxtaposed in this region. The data clearly show that most of the
Pb in central Andean igneous and ore samples is derived from the
local basement, including Pb in ore deposits of the Bolivian tin belt.
Some of the isotopic domain boundaries correspond to geologic
structures and the residual gravity pattern, as well as to metallogenic boundaries such as the western edge of the Bolivian tin
The 300 3 2000 km Altiplano-Puna plateau dominates the
physiography of the central Andes. It has an average elevation of 3.8
km and overlies exceptionally (up to 70 km) thick continental crust
at the great bend in the Andes at lat 188S. Here, Cenozoic volcanic
rocks associated with the subduction of the Nazca plate beneath the
western margin of South America form an arc several hundred kilometres wide. The Altiplano, or northern part of the central Andean plateau, is now an elevated, low-relief, internally drained basin
situated between the volcanic front to the west and the fold-andthrust belt of the Eastern Cordillera. Over much of the central
Andes, and especially on the Altiplano, young volcanic and sedimentary deposits obscure the basement rocks and so inhibit our
understanding of the regional crustal structure. Proterozoic gneisses
of the Arequipa massif crop out to the northwest of the Altiplano
on the Peruvian coast (Shackleton et al., 1979; Dalmayrac et al.,
1977), and Proterozoic rocks of the Brazilian craton (e.g., Litherland
et al., 1989) occur to the northeast of the Eastern Cordillera. Elsewhere, however, published geological and geochronological information on the basement is limited to a few inliers in northern Chile
and northwest Argentina (e.g., Damm et al., 1990; Pacci et al., 1980;
Kay et al., 1993) and to one drill-core sample from northwestern
Bolivia (Lehmann, 1978).
Pb isotopic compositions of crustal rocks can vary enormously
because of differences in their ages or U-Th-Pb fractionation histories. Different basement provinces can develop distinct isotopic
characteristics and may, therefore, be distinguishable on the basis of
their Pb isotopic compositions, even in the absence of other geologic
information. Such a situation occurs in the Altiplano where, although there are few exposures of the basement rocks, Pb from

these rocks has reached the surface at many locations in magmas

and ore-forming fluids through crustal-contamination processes.
In this study we have compiled all 163 previously published Pb
isotopic data for ores, volcanic rocks, and country rocks for the area
in the central Andes from lat 168 to 248S and from long 648 to 708W.
We also present new Pb isotopic data from a further 182 samples (32
basement or host rocks, 100 igneous rocks, and 50 ores). We show
that the Pb isotopic composition of ores and igneous rocks is of
crustal origin, and we use this information to infer the existence of
different basement blocks beneath the Altiplano area and to locate
the boundaries between these blocks.
Previous studies of Pb isotopes in the central Andes (e.g., Tilton and Barreiro, 1980; Tilton et al., 1981; Puig, 1988) considered
mainly petrogenesis of the volcanic rocks and sources of ore Pb by
using Pb-Pb isotope plots. All of these studies suggested that the Pb
in the igneous rocks and ores was a mixture of mantle-derived Pb
and an additional component from the continental crust. According
to Puig (1988), varying proportions of these components in the host
rocks led to isotopic variations that were inherited directly by the
ores. Some workers (e.g., McNutt et al., 1979; Macfarlane et al.,
1990) also considered subducted (metalliferous) sediments to be an
important Pb source for ores and igneous rocks.
Macfarlane et al. (1990) established that the central Andes
contained several geographic provinces with different ore Pb isotopic compositions. Their survey area was much larger but less
densely sampled than in this study, and their suggested Pb isotopic
boundaries differ substantially from those defined here. Wo
rner et
al. (1992) used Pb isotopic data from volcanic rocks along the volcanic front of northern Chile to show that a marked change in
crustal Pb isotopic composition occurred at ;19.58S, with less radiogenic Pb to the north and more radiogenic Pb to the south. Kay
et al. (1993) observed Pb isotopic provinciality in the area from 288
to 338S, with relatively radiogenic Pb in the main Cordillera volcanic
rocks and less radiogenic Pb in those to the west (Precordillera) and
to the east (Sierras Pampeanas). They attributed this pattern partly
to basement Pb components and partly to subcrustal Pb sources
such as subducted sediment.
Volcanic rocks of Miocene-Holocene age were sampled
throughout the study area (Fig. 1). Most are of andesite-rhyolite
composition, but they also include members of the back-arc shoshonite suite. K-feldspar separates were obtained from several Mes-

Data Repository item 9529 contains additional material related to this article.
Geology; June 1995; v. 23; no. 6; p. 555558; 3 figures.


Figure 1. 206Pb/204Pb (A), 207Pb/204Pb (B), and 208Pb/204Pb (C) maps of

central Andes based on Pb isotopic data from ore deposits and volcanic rocks. Data define several isotopically distinct domains, which
are interpreted to reflect differences in Pb isotopic composition of
underlying basement. Data are from this work, Macfarlane et al. (1990),
Puig (1988), Tilton et al. (1981), Tilton and Barreiro (1980), Worner et al.
(1992), Davidson and de Silva (1992), and Worner et al. (1988).

ozoic intrusions in northern Chile. Pb mineralization from polymetallic (Ag-Sn-Pb-Zn-Sb) ore deposits was sampled throughout
the area. Most new samples came from the Eastern Cordillera of
Bolivia and were mainly galena but also included pyrite and complex
sulfosalts containing trace amounts of Pb. Basement samples from
the northern Altiplano included schist and gneiss cobbles in the
Tertiary Azurita Formation conglomerate, an in-situ drill-core sample of orthogneiss from San Andres de Machaca, igneous and metamorphic rocks from the Belen inlier in northern Chile, and xenoliths in volcanic centers west of Lago Poopo. Samples of the
southern Altiplano basement were collected from the Quebrada
Choja inlier at 218S in Chile. Eastern Cordillera metamorphic rocks
were sampled as (kyanite-bearing) xenoliths in volcanic centers near
the south end of Lago Poopo. Also analyzed were eight new samples
of the low-grade, deformed Paleozoic sedimentary rocks that crop

out extensively in the Eastern Cordillera. These represent thick shelf

and passive-margin sedimentary material and may be important
contaminants of igneous rocks there. Nine Mesozoic sedimentary
rocks (mainly coarse clastic continental deposits) were also analyzed
from the Eastern Cordillera and northern Altiplano.
The Pb isotopic data1 define several isotopically and geographically distinct domains (Fig. 1).
1. The northern Altiplano domain extends from the volcanic
GSA Data Repository item 9529 comprises the complete Pb isotopic
database for the study area including new and previously published data,
as well as an account of analytical methods. It is available on request from
Documents Secretary, GSA, P.O. Box 9140, Boulder, CO 80301.

GEOLOGY, June 1995

front eastward to Lago Poopo and southward to the Salar de Uyuni

at 19.58S. It is characterized by relatively nonradiogenic Pb, i.e., low
values of 206Pb/204Pb (,18.3), 207Pb/204Pb (,15.62), and 208Pb/
Pb (,38.5).
2. The Eastern Cordillera domain has more radiogenic Pb, i.e.,
higher values of Pb isotopic ratios (206Pb/204Pb . 18.6, 207Pb/204Pb
. 15.64, and 208Pb/204Pb . 38.9) and extends from Lago Poopo
eastward into the Eastern Cordillera. At Lago Poopo this domain is
separated from the northern Altiplano domain to the west by a
sharp, north-trending boundary that appears to be offset south of
Lago Poopo. At Lake Titicaca the boundary between the two domains is sharp and trends northwest.
3. The southern Altiplano domain is isotopically similar to the
Eastern Cordillera domain except that it has slightly lower 208Pb/
Pb ratios (38.538.9). Its 207Pb/204Pb ratios are all at the low end
of the range for the Eastern Cordillera. The boundary between the
northern and southern Altiplano domains is a broad transition zone
between 19.58S and 218S, where both radiogenic and nonradiogenic
Pb is present.
4. The Jurassic coastal domain forms a belt parallel to, and
west of, the volcanic front and is characterized by relatively radiogenic Pb. There are too few data to identify precisely the location
and nature of the boundary between it and the Altiplano domains.
The contours in Figure 1 are hand-drawn. The isotopic domain
boundaries change little if a smaller contour interval is used.
Figure 2 plots 208Pb/204Pb vs. 206Pb/204Pb data for ore deposits
and volcanic rocks from the first three domains enumerated below
and superimposes the compositional fields measured directly from
the basement or country rocks in each area. Figure 2 shows that in
each area the basement rocks have a distinctly different Pb isotopic
composition and that the ore and volcanic data reflect the local
basement composition.
The close match between the known basement composition
and that of local igneous and ore samples strongly supports a crustal
origin for most of the Pb in these samples. The main control on Pb
isotopic compositions of the ores and volcanic rocks is clearly the

Figure 2. 208Pb/204Pb vs. 206Pb/204Pb plot for volcanic rocks

and ores of central Andes, classified by geographic area.
For comparison, compositions of basement rocks from the
different areas are also shown (as fields). Note distinctly
different isotopic composition of each geographic group
and how it reflects known composition of local basement
rocks. Less radiogenic Eastern Cordillera samples, which
overlap with northern Altiplano field, come from north of
19S and from close to Argentinian frontier (see text for
discussion). Jurassic coastal domain data (omitted for
clarity) overlap mainly with southern Altiplano data.
GEOLOGY, June 1995

composition of the basement. In our opinion the Pb isotopic provinciality displayed by these samples could not be inherited from the
mantle source of the magmas. Sharp province boundaries from the
mantle are unlikely to survive long-lived magmatic processes and
mantle convection, and crustal contamination would rapidly obscure
any Pb isotopic heterogeneity in the primary magmas. In fact, it is
widely accepted that Andean igneous rocks are significantly contaminated by continental material (e.g., Hildreth and Moorbath,
1988; Davidson et al., 1990; Wo
rner et al., 1992), and models involving as little as 10%20% of contamination of the magmatic
systems of the Altiplano area indicate that the crustal Pb component
would still be very large (.75%) in the erupted liquids (Aitcheson
and Forrest, 1994, and unpublished; Wo
rner et al., 1988). The
crustal Pb component must, then, be large in the ore deposits also,
even if the ore Pb and ore-forming fluids were all exsolved from
magma and no Pb was scavenged by fluids directly from the crust.
For all of these reasons we regard the Pb isotopic composition
of ores and volcanic rocks in this area as approximately representing
the composition of the underlying basement. We interpret the different Pb isotopic domains of the central Andes (Fig. 3) inferred
from the Pb isotopic maps (Fig. 1) as representing distinct basement
domains of different age and composition. We suggest that the isotopic domain boundaries reflect the positions and character (i.e.,
whether abrupt or transitional) of real geologic boundaries between
the different crustal blocks.
The abrupt boundary between the Eastern Cordillera (EC in
Fig. 3) domain and the Altiplano domains (NA and SA in Fig. 3)
could be a major fault and apparently coincides with the Copacaban
a fault zone at Lake Titicaca and with the Coniri fault between
La Paz and Oruro. The broad transition zone (TZ in Fig. 3) between
the northern and southern Altiplano domains contains both radiogenic and nonradiogenic crust and might represent a single southdipping thrust zone (e.g., Wo
rner et al., 1992) or a more complex
zone in which the two types of crust are tectonically interleaved. On
the Bouguer gravity map of the Altiplano (Cady, 1992), the trend of
elongate gravity anomalies changes from north-northwest north of
the Salar de Uyuni to northeast south of the Salar de Uyuni, suggesting that a change in orientation of crustal structures occurs
where the Pb isotopic data define the transition zone. The positions
of minor Pb isotope anomalies, such as A in Figure 3, also coincide
with small gravity anomalies.
The basement of the northern Altiplano, though relatively nonradiogenic, nevertheless has higher 206Pb/204Pb and 207Pb/204Pb ratios than the measured compositions (Tilton and Barreiro, 1980) of

Figure 3. Map showing

main crustal domain
boundaries of central
Andes inferred from Pb
isotopic maps in Figure
1. NAnorthern Altiplano domain, SA
southern Altiplano domain, ECEastern
Cordillera domain, TZ
transition zone, JCD
Jurassic coastal domain. Asmall Pb
isotopic anomaly that
corresponds to small
gravity anomaly.


Arequipa massif gneisses to the northwest, and so it is uncertain if

the northern Altiplano basement is part of the same massif. However, we note that Nd crustal extraction ages (tDM, DePaolo, 1981)
of ;1.9 Ga from northern Altiplano basement samples (Aitcheson
and Moorbath, 1992, unpublished data) are similar to the protolith
age inferred by Dalmayrac et al. (1977) for Arequipa massif granulites from U-Pb zircon upper-intercept ages. The northern Altiplano basement is overlain locally by Cretaceous and Tertiary sedimentary rock containing much more radiogenic Pb, which is
isotopically similar to that found in the Eastern Cordillera. This
coincidence may reflect deposition in the Altiplano basin of detritus
from the east. Several less radiogenic samples occur north of 198S
in the Eastern Cordillera and may reflect a minor sedimentary component derived from the northern Altiplano. A few less radiogenic
samples also occur close to the Bolivia-Argentina frontier, as noted
previously by Macfarlane et al. (1990). Kay et al. (1993) reported
less radiogenic Pb isotopic compositions for Miocene volcanic rocks
and Precambrian basement of the Argentinian Precordillera and
Sierras Pampeanas. Evidently these data document yet another distinctive Pb isotopic basement domain to the south of our study area,
which may be the source of the nonradiogenic Pb component in our
samples on the Bolivia-Argentina frontier.
The boundary between the Eastern Cordillera and both Altiplano isotopic domains also corresponds to the western limit of
tin-tungsten mineralization in Bolivia (e.g., Ahlfeld and SchneiderScherbina, 1964, Fig. 43). This correspondence suggests that tin
mineralization is linked to the bulk chemical composition of the
Eastern Cordillera crust, despite its apparent lack of a primary tin
anomaly; perhaps melts of the relatively carbon-rich Paleozoic rocks
there had a low oxygen fugacity, leading to tin enrichment in the
magma during crystal fractionation. The Pb in the Eastern Cordillera ore deposits is isotopically indistinguishable both from Pb in the
local crust and generally also from Pb in likely mantle sources. Thus,
the presence or absence of a large mantle Pb component in these
ores cannot be demonstrated by using Pb isotopic data from the
Eastern Cordillera alone.
Pb isotopic compositions of central Andean igneous rocks,
basement samples, and ores show overlapping values in each area
and show pronounced provinciality that can be mapped out on a
large scale. These Pb isotopic provinces are interpreted as distinct
basement domains of different age and composition. Boundaries
between these domains follow large-scale structural trends and in
places may be controlled by crustal-scale faults. Pb ore is derived
mainly from the crust either by direct scavenging from local basement or from igneous fluids whose Pb was acquired mainly by crustal
contamination of the parent magmas.
Supported by Oxford University and the Natural Environment Research Council (grant GR/3/7679 to Moorbath) (Aitcheson and Moorbath),
ORSTOM (UR1H-TOA Departement) (Soler), Carl Duisberg Foundation
(Bayer), Germany (Schneider), and the German Science Foundation (grant
362/5-1,2,3 to Wo
rner). We thank G. Anthes, G. Carlier, J. Entenmann,
M. Fornari, A. Forrest, A. Heumann, L. Hoke, L. Kennan, S. Lamb, and A.
Medina for assistance with sampling and A. Medina, M. Cheatham, W.
White, R. Goodwin, and C. Fry for technical assistance. We thank B. Lehmann for providing a drill-core sample (A2) of the northern Altiplano basement. C. R. Stern and M. Dungan provided helpful reviews. This study was
made possible by the cooperation of the Bolivian Geological Survey
(GEOBOL) and Universidad Mayor de San Andres (La Paz, Bolivia) and
forms part of International Geological Correlation Programme Project 345.

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Manuscript received October 21, 1994
Revised manuscript received March 13, 1995
Manuscript accepted March 20, 1995

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GEOLOGY, June 1995