The presence of an angular unconformity in combination with complex structures in the basement, lacking in the cover, is commonly seen as an indication for an orogenic event pre-dating the unconformity. The recognition of such an older orogenic event becomes, however, less evident in areas where both cover and basement were deformed together during an orogen post-dating the angular unconformity.
The validity of this common interpretation has been evaluated at the southern border of the Lower Palaeozoic Rocroi basement inlier (Naux, northern France), where the basement-cover interface is very well exposed. This basement-cover interface, showing an angular unconformity, has classically been interpreted as evidence for an early Palaeozoic tectonometamorphic event, called the Ardennian orogeny, though only one penetrative cleavage, co-genetic with the structures present in both cover and basement, can be observed.
A detailed geometrical study shows, however, that the presence of a tilted basement, involving the angular unconformity, provokes a rheological heterogeneity that causes a contrasting response of basement and cover with respect to the Variscan shortening. While Variscan progressive deformation gave rise to a rather regular cleavage refraction pattern in the subhorizontal multilayer cover sequence, a complex deformation, expressed by non-cylindrical folds, boudinage and shearing developed in the basement. The basement-cover interface itself played no rheological role, but has been passively sheared and folded as a consequence of the deformation of the basement. This study proves that the deformed basement-cover interface, allowing to link deformation in basement and cover, is a necessary tool to properly interpret complex deformation in the basement. With respect to the regional geodynamic evolution of the northern parts of the Central European Variscides, our kinematic model indeed demonstrates that this classical outcrop area bears no evidence for an early Palaeozoic orogenic event, and that the angular unconformity reflects the late Silurian – early Devonian onset of the Ardenne-Eifel basin development, rather than a middle Ordovician Ardennian orogeny.