Detailed mapping and structural analysis combined with new age dates, using U-Pb and 40Ar/39Ar techniques, have allowed us to constrain the timing of pre-ductile and ductile deformation in the Foothills terrane of the central Sierra Nevada. By using strain and other data, it can be shown that rigid rotation of beds (folding/faulting) predated the onset of ductile deformation and probably occurred between 160 and 151 Ma. Ductile structures, consisting of continuous and secondary cleavages and associated folds and lineations, started forming ca. 151 Ma in the Bear Mountains fault zone and then ca. 145 Ma, began moving away from the fault zone, forming diachronously over an ∼30-m.y. period. The last documented ductile structure formed ca. 123 Ma, although some secondary structures may be younger.
Metamorphism of these rocks is generally upper greenschist facies, although higher-grade belts (one bearing staurolite, andalusite, and sillimanite) are present. Strain was preferentially partitioned into one of these belts of higher metamorphic grade (and sporadically elsewhere). The structural history here is much more complex, and at least one and locally two complete transpositions of the original cleavage have occurred. In these zones of complex deformation, it is in most cases possible only to identify a composite foliation consisting of new continuous cleavage and relicts of earlier phases, all lying mutually parallel.
Timing constraints indicate that the pre-ductile structures may correspond to a very late stage of the Nevadan orogeny (that is, 155 ± 3 Ma), but the ductile structures postdate that orogeny (as defined) by as much as about 25-30 m.y. Models which relate the ductile structures in the central Foothills terrane to Nevadan plate-tectonic events are untenable. In addition, recent work indicates that Late Cretaceous ductile deformation in the central and southern Sierra Nevada may be relatively widespread, indicating that tectonic models for the Sierra Nevada need to be reassessed.