A ≤400 m thick metamorphic sequence showing thermal inversion is present beneath a dismembered ultrabasic–basic complex in the Shetland Islands of northeast Scotland. The metamorphic grade changes from upper amphibolite facies in metabasites at the top of the sequence to low greenschist facies in metasediments at the base. Garnet–clinopyroxene thermometry yields temperatures of ~ 750 °C (at 300 MPa) for the highest grade assemblage. There is no evidence for high pressures of metamorphism, and maximum overburden may never have exceeded the original thickness of the overlying ultrabasic–basic complex, which is estimated to have been ~ 10 km.The internal structure and field relations of the ultrabasic–basic complex reveal that it is a displaced fragment of oceanic crust and upper mantle of Ordovician age. The chemistry of its basic lithologies suggests low-K tholeiite, suprasubduction zone, pre-arc affinities. In contrast, the underlying meteamorphic sequence possesses a mid-ocean ridge basalt (MORB) signature.Four K–Ar age determinations from amphibole mineral separates of the metamorphic sequence range from 479 ± 6 to 465 ± 6 Ma. The highest age is interpreted as the date of the onset of metamorphic sole formation and the initial tectonic displacement of the oceanic fragment.It is concluded that the metamorphic sequence was generated during intraoceanic thrusting during the destruction of a young, marginal oceanic basin located between a continental margin and the ocean lithosphère of Iapetus. Certain MORB lithologies were metamorphosed and transferred to the marginal basin hanging wall during the subduction of Iapetus. Apparent thermal inversion was caused during overthrusting by the gradual underplating of the hanging wall in close proximity to a suprasubduction zone spreading centre.