The palaeo-Pacific margin of Gondwana in the present-day south–central Andes is marked by tectonic activity related to subduction and terrane accretion. We present detrital zircon U–Pb data encompassing the Palaeozoic era in northern Chile and northwestern Argentina. Cathodoluminescence images reveal dominantly magmatic zircon barely affected by abrasion and displaying only one growth phase. The main age clusters for these zircon grains are Ediacaran to Palaeozoic with an additional peak at 1.3–0.9 Ga and they can be correlated with ‘Grenvillian’ age, and the Brasiliano, Pampean, and Famatinian orogenies. The zircon data reveal main transport from the nearby Ordovician Famatinian arc and related rocks. The Silurian sandstone units are more comparable with Cambrian units, with Brasiliano and Transamazonian ages (2.2–1.9 Ga) being more common, because the Silurian deposits were situated within or east of the (extinct) Famatinian arc. Hence, the arc acted as a transport barrier throughout Palaeozoic time. The complete suite of zircon ages does not record the accretions of exotic terranes or the Palaeozoic glacial periods. We conclude that the transport system along the palaeo-Pacific margin of Gondwana remained stable for c. 0.3 byr and that provenance data do not necessarily reflect the interior of a continent. Hence, inherited geomorphological features must be taken into account when detrital mineral ages are interpreted.
U–Pb data, CL images, and detailed geological maps are available at www.geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18796.