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The Mesoproterozoic Belt-Purcell Basin of the United States–Canadian Rocky Mountains formed in a complex intracontinental-rift system. The basin contained three main fault blocks: a northern half-graben, a central horst, and a southern graben. Each had distinct internal stratigraphy and mineralization that influenced Phanerozoic sedimentation; the northern half-graben and horst formed a platform with a condensed section, whereas the southern graben formed the subsiding Central Montana trough. They formed major crustal blocks that rotated clockwise during Cordilleran thrust displacement, with transpressional shear zones deforming their edges. The northern half-graben was deepest and filled with a structurally strong prism of quartz-rich sedimentary rocks and thick mafic sills that tapered toward the northeast from >15-km-thick near the basin-bounding fault. This strong, dense prism was driven into the foreland basin as a readymade, critically tapered tectonic wedge and was inverted into the Purcell anticlinorium. Erosion did not breech the Belt-Purcell Supergroup in this prism during thrusting. The southern graben was thinner, weaker, lacked mafic sills, and was engorged with sheets of granite during thrusting. It was internally deformed to achieve critical taper and shed thick deposits of syntectonic Belt-Purcell–clast conglomerate into the foreland basin.

A palinspastic map of the basin combined with a detailed paleocontinental map that juxtaposes the northeastern corner of the Siberian craton against western North America indicates that the basin formed at the complicated junction of three continental-scale rift zones.

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