The collision between the Eurasian and Arabian plates along the 2400-km-long Bitlis-Zagros thrust zone isolated the Mediterranean from the Indian Ocean and has been linked to extension of the Aegean, rifting of the Red Sea, and the formation of the North and East Anatolian fault systems. However, the timing of the collision is poorly constrained, and estimates range from Late Cretaceous to late Miocene. Here, we report the first apatite fission-track (AFT) ages from the Bitlis-Zagros thrust zone. The AFT samples are distributed over the 450 km length of the Bitlis thrust zone in southeast Turkey and include metamorphic rocks and Eocene sandstones. Despite the disparate lithology and large distance, the AFT ages point consistently to exhumation between 18 and 13 Ma. The AFT ages, along with a critical appraisal of regional stratigraphy, indicate that the last oceanic lithosphere between the Arabian and Eurasian plates was consumed by the early Miocene (ca. 20 Ma). The results imply that Aegean extension predated the Arabia-Eurasia collision.

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