Th/U values in zircon are commonly used to discriminate between metamorphic (Th/U < 0.1) and magmatic (Th/U > 0.1) origin for zircon overgrowths. We test this hypothesis in the San Ciprián massif, a late orogenic granitic intrusion in the hinterland of the Variscan orogeny. Zircon grains from this granite have cores with inherited Ediacaran ages and Th/U > 0.1, whereas zircon mantles yield an age of about 287 Ma, interpreted as the time of crystallization of the granite, and have Th/U < 0.1. Hence, the San Ciprián massif presents an uncommon but unambiguous example of magmatic zircon mantles with Th/U values typical of metamorphic zircon. The most likely causes for the unusually low-Th/U zircon values in the San Ciprián massif are a combination of a U-rich magma composition (owing to a fractionation process) and the absence of other U-enriched accessory minerals. Our work in determining Th/U ratios substantiates the warning previously made by some researchers and precludes the use of Th/U values in zircon as an unequivocal indicator of metamorphic origin in the absence of other chemical, zircon morphology or field-based independent criteria.

Supplementary materials:

Code and data to generate Figures 1 and 5 are available at

You do not currently have access to this article.