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Recognition and subsequent study of the syn-convergent low-angle normal faults and shear zones – the South Tibetan Detachment System (STDS) – that form the upper boundary of the Himalayan mid-crust fundamentally changed views of how the Himalayan orogenic system developed. This paper reviews the past four decades of discovery and major advances in our understanding of the detachment system. Significantly conflicting maps of the fault trace, as well as proposed extensions of the detachment system up to hundreds of kilometres both up and down dip of the main fault trace, call for a unifying definition of the detachment system based on structural criteria. The different proposed models for the formation of the STDS during tectonic evolution of the Himalayan orogen are compared. Finally, critical outstanding questions about the origin, extent and character of the detachment system are identified and point to future directions for research.

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