The U.S. continental interior (midcontinent) contains numerous fault and fold zones. Seismic and drilling data indicate that some of these zones first formed as Proterozoic-Eocambrian rift faults, but the origin of most remains enigmatic. We propose that the enigmatic fault and fold zones also began as Proterozoic-Eocambrian normal faults. We base our hypothesis on the following: (1) enigmatic zones parallel known rifts, (2) the structural style of enigmatic zones mirrors the structural style of known rifts, (3) the map pattern of some enigmatic zones (e.g., the La Salle deformation belt of Illinois) resembles the map pattern of contemporary rifts, and (4) it is easier to rupture an intact craton by normal faulting than by reverse or strike-slip faulting. These zones, along with known rifts, represent the legacy of widespread extensional tectonism that brittlely broke up the craton into fault-bounded blocks prior to deposition of Phanerozoic platform cover. Once formed, midcontinent fault and fold zones remained weak, allowing cratonic blocks to jostle relative to one another during the Phanerozoic, thereby inverting faults (and creating transpressional or transtensional structural assemblages), localizing seismicity, and channeling (or releasing) ore-generating fluids.

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