During the Tertiary evolution of the Western Mediterranean subduction system, a migrating foreland basin system developed between the Maghrebian orogenic belt and the adjacent African Craton. However, a comprehensive reconstruction of the foreland basin systems of the Rif Chain is still missing. By integrating field observations with quantitative biostratigraphic data from calcareous nannofossil assemblages, sandstone composition, and detrital zircon U-Pb geochronology from selected stratigraphic successions, we reconstruct the foreland basin system that developed in the early Miocene in front of the growing Rif orogen. The successions analyzed are representative of (1) the classical “Numidian Facies” from the Intrarifian Tanger Unit and (2) the Numidian-like deposits (mixed successions) of the “Mérinides Facies” from the “Maghrebian Flysch Basin” and the “Beliounis Facies” from the Predorsalian Unit. Our petrographic analyses and detrital zircon U-Pb ages show that the quartzarenites of the “Numidian Facies” originated from the African Craton, whereas the sublitharenites and feldspathic litharenites from the Mérinides and Beliounis Facies originated from a cratonic area and the exhuming Rif Chain.
Our biostratigraphic analyses suggest a simultaneous arrival of the quartz grains in the Numidian, Mérinides, and Beliounis deposits, which indicates that their deposition occurred at ~1 m.y. (ca. 20–19 Ma, early Burdigalian) and allows us to delineate the early Burdigalian foreland basin system of the Rif Chain. The foreland depozone received the “Numidian Facies,” the foredeep-hosted ~2000 m of the “Mérinides Facies” and the Beni Ider Flysch, whereas the wedge-top depozone was characterized by deposition of the “Beliounis Facies.”
The Numidian Sandstones and the Numidian-like deposits analyzed in Morocco show the same age as similar deposits from Algeria, Tunisia, and Sicily, which suggests a comparable early Burdigalian tectono-sedimentary evolution along the southern branch of the Western Mediterranean subduction-related orogen.