The Sagantole Formation comprises more than 200 m of lacustrine, alluvial, and volcaniclastic sediments, plus compositionally bimodal tephras and basaltic lavas, exposed in a domelike horst named the Central Awash Complex in the southwestern Afar rift of Ethiopia. The Sagantole Formation is widely known for abundant vertebrate faunas, including the 4.4 Ma primitive hominid Ardipithecus ramidus. New lithostratigraphic data are used to subdivide the Sagantole Formation into the Kuseralee, Gawto, Haradaso, Aramis, Beidareem, Adgantole, and Belohdelie Members, in ascending order. The members are defined on the basis of lithologic differences and laterally continuous bounding tephras.
40Ar/39Ar dating of 12 intercalated volcanic units firmly establishes the age of the Sagantole Formation to be 5.6 to 3.9 Ma, significantly older than previous proposals based on erroneous correlations. Magnetostratigraphic data reveal eight paleomagnetic polarity zones, which can be correlated unambiguously with the Thvera, Sidufjall, Nunivak, and Cochiti Subchrons of the Gilbert Chron. Thus, by reference to the geomagnetic polarity time scale, seven additional chronological datums can be placed in the Sagantole Formation. With a total of 19 such datums, the age resolution anywhere in the Sagantole Formation is better than ±100 k.y., making this the best-dated Miocene–Pliocene succession in Africa.