Leg 161 of the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) has made a major contribution to our understanding of the origin of the Alboran Basin by demonstrating that it is underlain by rocks of continental origin that have undergone high-temperature metamorphism and melting at exceptionally low pressure after exhumation and decompression. Basement rocks recovered from Site 976 consist of high-grade schist and gneiss derived from aluminous sediments, and minor amounts of marble, granitic dikes, and migmatitic segregations of granitic material. Mineral assemblages and textural relations show that an early assemblage including biotite, garnet, staurolite, plagioclase, and rutile is overprinted by a second assemblage of biotite, sillimanite, plagioclase, potassium feldspar, and ilmenite. Both assemblages are overprinted by andalusite, potassium feldspar, and minor garnet. Migmatitic gneiss contains relict andalusite, overprinted by sillimanite and cordierite coexisting with granitic leucosome. Preliminary pressure-temperature estimates suggest that the metamorphic evolution followed an approximately isothermal decompression path from 7 to 3 kbar at temperatures in the range 580 to 630 °C. After decompression, granitic melts formed at <3 kbar and >670 °C, after andalusite breakdown and within the sillimanite stability field. The cored rocks closely resemble high-grade metamorphic rocks in the adjacent Betic Cordillera of southern Spain, which yield early Miocene radiometric dates. At ODP Site 976 they are overlain by middle Miocene marine sediments. The combination of exhumation in an extensional tectonic environment and the evidence for high and increasing temperature during exhumation provide support for and new constraints on current models for the basin that involve the removal of lithospheric mantle below a zone of continental collision, accompanied or followed by extension.

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