Olistolith production and magmatism are processes commonly associated with extensional tectonic settings, such as rift basins. We present a cautionary exemplar from one such Precambrian basin, in which we reinterpret metabasite bodies, previously documented as sills, to be olistoliths. We nevertheless demonstrate that, on the basis of field observation alone, the previous but erroneous sill interpretation is parsimonious. Indeed, it is only by using isotopic age and compositional analysis that the true identities of these metabasite olistoliths are revealed. We present new data from metabasites and metasedimentary strata of the Kingston Peak Formation (Cryogenian) and Crystal Spring Formation (Mesoproterozoic) of Death Valley, USA. These include field observations, U–Pb apatite ages, U–Pb zircon ages (detrital and igneous) and whole-rock geochemistry. These data also provide a new maximum age for the base of the Pahrump Group and suggest that the Crystal Spring Diabase was more tholeiitic than previously thought. Similar sill/olistolith misinterpretations may have occurred elsewhere, potentially producing erroneous age and tectonic-setting interpretations of surrounding strata. This is particularly relevant in Precambrian rocks, where fossil age constraints are rare. This is illustrated herein using a potential example from the Neoproterozoic literature of the Lufilian belt, Africa. We caution others against Precambrian olistoliths masquerading as sills.
Supplementary material: Details of a meta-igneous boulder from P12 of the Silurian Hills, LA-ICP-MS and whole-rock geochemistry methods and standards, and U–Pb apatite and zircon isotopic data, including standards and selected cathodoluminescence images, are available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3990639