The first direct evidence that stratified rocks of the central core of the southern Appalachian Blue Ridge range in age into the Paleozoic comes from a pelmatozoan echinoderm column discovered within a unit directly above the Murphy Marble in North Carolina. Before this discovery most geologists had considered all stratified rocks of the Blue Ridge east of the frontal imbricate thrust blocks to be Late Proterozoic or Early Cambrian(?). The echinoderm fragment is in a lower amphibolite facies interbedded mica schist-impure marble zone that lies directly above the Murphy Marble. Rocks above the Murphy Marble are dominantly turbiditic metaclastic rocks with minor carbonate and metavolcanic rocks, interpreted as having formed within a successor basin unconformably above upper Precambrian rift facies and lower Paleozoic drift facies rocks of the Laurentian passive margin. An upper bound for the age of the successor basin in the Murphy belt has not been established; similar sequences in the Talladega belt to the southwest, and possibly the Foothills belt to the west, range at least into the Devonian. Most Appalachian tectonic models assert that during the Taconic orogeny a Middle Ordovician synorogenic clastic wedge, now located in the easternmost Tennessee foreland salient, was derived by erosion from the metamorphosed pre-Ordovician Blue Ridge basement and cover sequence to the east, which was uplifted as part of an advancing Taconic crystalline thrust wedge. The presence of Ordovician or younger rocks described here, which were deposited east of the proposed Taconic orogenic front, suggests the need to modify models for Taconic clastic wedge formation in the southern Appalachians. The results presented here also suggest that peak metamorphism in the region was post-Ordovician, and thus was probably not contemporaneous with the Taconic orogeny, as previously thought.

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