One of the major debated aspects of the Zagros orogenic system in the Middle East is the timing of onset of continental collision between Arabia and Eurasia. The Zagros hinterland in the Kurdistan region of Iraq contains an ~2-km-thick clastic depositional sequence of the Red Bed Series (RBS) that rests unconformably on the Arabian foreland and structurally below the Main Zagros fault, which carries the allochthonous volcaniclastic rocks of the Walash and Naopurdan groups in its hanging wall. Detrital zircon (DZ) U-Pb geochronology constrains both the depositional age and the provenance of the RBS and pinpoints the timing of initial arrival of Eurasian sediment on the Arabian plate. The youngest DZ U-Pb ages for the laterally extensive (~150 km) basal RBS (Suwais unit) imply a middle Oligocene (ca. 26 Ma) maximum depositional age. The provenance data reveal dominant DZ U-Pb age modes of late Paleocene (ca. 55–60 Ma) and middle Eocene (ca. 37–44 Ma) and, importantly, the presence of ~10%–15% DZ grains that are unequivocally derived from Eurasia, including of Jurassic (150–200 Ma) and late Paleozoic (270–380 Ma) DZ age modes. These data suggest that the RBS deposits were mainly sourced from forearc- and/or arc-related terranes along the southwest margin and hinterland of Eurasia. We advocate that by ca. 26 Ma, Neo-Tethys oceanic crust had been consumed and that Arabia-Eurasia continental collision well was underway as indicated by deposition of strata with Eurasian provenance on the Arabian margin. These DZ U-Pb data from the RBS highlight the significance of provenance data from synorogenic deposits in revealing the timing of initial continent collision by documenting the earliest arrival of upper-plate sediment on the lower plate.

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