US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Human Evolution (1990) 19, 87-119.


The Pinturas Formation is a pyroclastic and epiclastic aeolian deposit of Miocene age lying discordantly upon Jurassic rocks in the elevated Andean precordillera of northwest Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The history of de\'elopment of the Pinturas Formation was significantly affected by the gradual, though sporadic, draping of this aeolian sediment across a profound, slowly filling paleotopography. The Pinturas depositional cycle consisted of: (1) minor aeolian deposition followed by soil formation, and (2) major aeolian deposition followed by intervals of regional erosion. Fluvial action seems to have been almost wholly confined to intraformational erosion, and two significant intraformational erosional unconformities divide the Pinturas Formation into three sequences. The lower sequence is dominated by pyroclastic mudrocks upon which were formed very mature, probably mollic, paleosols; the middle sequence is composed largely of epiclastic sand occurring as barchanoid paleodunes; and the upper sequence consists of massive, poorly bedded pyroclastic mudrocks. largely Pinturas lacunae \\'ere reconstructed on the basis of locally preserved strata, and a novel method of holostrome reconstruction using relative paleosol maturities places Pinturas sedimentation in a more accurate temporal light. It also indicates: (1) that the Pinturas sediment accumulation rate increased with time; (2) that regional erosive intervals are correlated directly with major influxes of pyroclastic material; and (3) that the introduction of the Pinturas platyrrhine primates occurred in the sequence: Carlocebus carmenensis, C. intermedius and Soriacebus ameghinorum, Soriacebus adrianae.
Pinturas paleosols appear to have formed under moist conditions, and both mature and immature varieties yield a host of ichnofossils. These include the burrows and nests of bees, scarabeid beetles, termites, and at least two different kinds of colonial rodents, in addition to rhizoliths and the calcified boles and root systems of trees. A fossil nest of a nasutitermitine termite in the lower sequence of the formation indicates the presence of tropical forest. Climatic conditions may haw been drier during deposition of the barchanoid paleodunes in early late Pinturas time, or the dunes might reflect drier source areas or have simply encroached on areas of highland forest. Fossil mammals are abundant in Pinturas sediments, and attritional concentrations of them were recognized in the upper parts of paleosols and on the floors of erosional scours. Radiometric dates indicate that the fossil mammals (including platyrrhine primates) occurring in the lower and middle parts of the formation may range in age from about 16.6 to younger than 13.3 Ma (million years ago) (Santacrucian and, almost certainly, Friasian land-mammal ages). This age range is somewhat younger than previous estimates, and suggests that the Pinturas faunas correlate broadly with those from the type Santa Cruz Formation, with the presumed position of the type Friasian, and with the base of the marine Caiman Formation in the lower valley of the RIO Chubut.