The volcanigenic rocks of the Kaczawa Mts (western Sudetes, Poland), in the eastern Variscides, show changing geological and geochemical evolution during early Palaeozoic time. The lower part of the succession (Cambrian (?)–Ordovician) has three components. 1. Shallow marine to subaerial metabasalts, associated with limestones and volcaniclastics. The lavas are dominantly of a transitional tholeiitic–alkaline type and their trace element patterns typically represent a rift-related environment. They pass laterally (and upwards ?) into more depleted basalts resembling enriched MORB, with Nd-isotopic characteristics indicating contamination by continental crust. 2. Interlayered rhyodacitic lavas and volcaniclastics which show negative ɛNd values, suggesting formation of the original magma by crustal melting. 3. An overlying alkaline bimodal suite of lavas and volcaniclastic rocks, as well as alkaline metabasites of shallow-intrusive character. The geochemistry of the latter resembles oceanic island volcanics, but they may well have been emplaced in the same evolving rift environment.

The upper part of the Kaczawa succession, Ordovician-Silurian (?) in age, comprises a thick and monotonous sequence of deep-marine pillowed and massive metabasalts, associated with black shales and cherts. These lavas exhibit MORB trace element characteristics, with minor evidence of crustal contamination. During this stage of rifting, true oceanic crust probably formed. It is thus suggested that the studied part of the Kaczawa succession developed in a progressively evolving rift, initially within an ensialic environment, and finally reaching the stage of a basin underlain by oceanic-type crust. Together with similar Cambrian-Ordovician volcanic-sedimentary associations, widely distributed in western Europe, from Portugal, through France and Germany, they represent a record of the Early Palaeozoic rifting in the northern periphery of Gondwana.

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