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It is now accepted that southern South America was formed from several terranes of diverse origin and evolution. However, a detailed history of the accretionary processes has not been unravelled yet. Palaeomagnetism can play an important role in such an endeavour. Palaeomagnetic constraints on the tectonic evolution of this region in the Proterozoic and Palaeozoic are reviewed and discussed. Data from the Rio de la Plata craton suggest that this block was already attached to most major Gondwana blocks by the end of the Proterozoic and may have formed a single continental mass with Congo-Sao Francisco, West Nile and Arabia throughout most of the Vendian. A large ocean separating these cratons from Amazonia and West Africa, prior to Gondwana assembly, is supported by available palaeomagnetic data. To the west of the Rio de la Plata craton is the Pampia terrane. Despite lack of palaeomagnetic data, geological evidence supports a model of Early Cambrian collision between these blocks. An Early Ordovician magmatic arc, the Famatina-Eastern Puna belt, which had developed on the western margin of the already accreted Pampia terrane, shows a systematic pattern of large clockwise rotation that has been interpreted as representative of the whole terrane. The favoured tectonic model portrays a continental magmatic arc with a back-arc basin to the east that was closed when the terrane rotated. There is little doubt of a Laurentian origin for the Cuyania (Precordillera) terrane, given the amount and diversity of evidence, including palaeomagnetism. The tectonic mechanism for accretion and its timing are still controversial. New palaeomagnetic data from Late Ordovician rocks of Cuyania support the ‘Laurentian plateau’ hypothesis, which suggests that Cuyania was still linked to Laurentia well into the Ordovician. Nevertheless, these new data do not rule out the more generally favoured ‘microcontinent model’ To the west of Cuyania is the Chilenia terrane, separated by a belt of ophiolites of Late Ordovician age. Very little is known about this terrane, although some U–Pb ages and Nd model ages point to a Laurentian origin for its basement. Lack of palaeomagnetic data precludes determining its kinematic evolution. The Arequipa-Antofalla block may actually be a composite terrane. Palaeomagnetic data obtained so far come exclusively from the southern Antofalla block. Recently acquired data in the western Puna of Argentina confirm the originally proposed distribution of Early Palaeozoic palaeomagnetic poles, which, despite several uncertainties, delineate a pattern of significant counterclockwise rotations with a possible anomaly in palaeolatitude for the late Cambrian. The data suggest a major tectonic discontinuity between the Eastern and Western Puna of Argentina in the Early Palaeozoic. Four palaeomagnetic poles of Devonian to Permian age from the North Patagonian Massif are consistent in position and age with the Gondwana apparent polar wander path, suggesting that both continental masses have not experienced major relative displacement since the Devonian. The data do not, however, rule out a restricted separation of Patagonia orthogonal to its northern boundary in the Early or Middle Palaeozoic and subsequent collision in the Late Palaeozoic.

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