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Shortly after the recognition of plate-tectonics, Wilson (1966) proposed his now famous cycle describing the creation and demise of ocean basins. His original four stages still form the basis for plate-tectonic discussions today: (1) rifting of a continent; (2) continental drift, sea-floor spreading and formation of ocean basins; (3) subduction initiation and progressive closure of ocean basins by subduction of oceanic lithosphere; and (4) continent–continent collision and final closure of an ocean basin. The Mediterranean basin constitutes the westernmost extremity of the Tethyan domain (e.g. Stampfli & Borel 2002). Here, the last remains of this former oceanic basin have nearly disappeared, thus representing stage (4). This final closure phase is associated with rifting and drifting in the Western Mediterranean (Dercourt et al. 1986), and with initiation of the Tyrrhenian–Calabrian and Alboran subduction zones, i.e. all of Wilson's phases are occurring concurrently.

Imprints of previous Wilson stages are preserved in the geological record. Detailed geochemical and metamorphic-petrological study of ophiolites – on-land relics of oceanic crust in mountain belts – (Spadea & D'Antonio 2006; Barth et al. 2008), paleogeographic reconstructions (Hall & Spakman 2003), as well as numerical and analogue modeling experiments

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