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The Kirtland Shale or Fruitland Formation directly underlies the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary throughout most of the San Juan Basin of northwest New Mexico and southwest Colorado. These formations have been known to be Late Cretaceous in age since the early 1900s. Now, with the greatly renewed interest in rocks adjacent to mass extinction boundaries, it is important to place more precise ages on such rock units as the Fruitland and Kirtland. Deposition of the Fruitland and Kirtland was closely related to deposition of the underlying marine-regressive Pictured Cliffs Sandstone. Because the Pictured Cliffs was deposited as a strandline sandstone in a subsiding seaway, its stratigraphic expression, when related to a time horizon (the Huerfanito Bentonite Bed), is a series of rising-to-the-northeast, time transgressive, stair steps. Thus, time lines (or horizons) drawn parallel to the Huerfanito cut through the marine Lewis Shale, the strandline Pictured Cliffs Sandstone, and the continental Fruitland Formation and Kirtland Shale.

Ammonites have been collected and identified from various stratigraphic levels within the Lewis Shale around the northwest, north, and east sides of the San Juan Basin. These fossils can be tied in to the established ammonite zonation of the Western Interior seaway. Because some of these ammonite zones have been radiometrically dated outside the San Juan Basin, it is possible to project these dated faunal zones from the Lewis Shale along time lines into the Fruitland Formation and Kirtland Shale and thereby estimate the age of those rocks. Based on these projections the part of the Fruitland and Kirtland laterally time-equivalent to the Lewis Shale is estimated to range from 73.2 ± 0.7 Ma to 73.9 ± 0.8 Ma. The average age for this interval based on these dates is 73.5 ± 0.5 Ma; the maximum range of the interval at the 95 percent confidence level is 71.8 to 75.5 Ma. This age range puts these rocks in the Campanian Stage of the upper Cretaceous in the San Juan Basin.

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