Eldred Dewey Wilson & the Proterozoic ‘Mazatzal Revolution’
In 1937, geologist Eldred Dewey Wilson coined the phrase ‘Mazatzal Revolution’ to describe mountain building along the western edge of the North American craton. While the Mazatzal Revolution occurred in the Proterozoic - more than 1.6 billion years ago - it continues to influence Arizona geology and mineral exploration to this day. Wilson’s 1937 Ph.D. research is now available online for the first time.
In about 1920, twenty-two-year old Eldred Dewey Wilson joined a handful of geologists - N.H. Darton, Carl Lausen and Olaf P. Jenkins, among them – wrestling with the complex geology of the rugged mountains of southern and central Arizona. Wilson was an assistant geologist at the Arizona Bureau of Mines and working on his M.S. thesis, ‘The Mazatzal Quartzite, a new pre-Cambrian formation of central Arizona’ at the University of Arizona. In 1924 Wilson was promoted to geologist at the Bureau, where he remained, with a short leave of absence to begin his doctoral research in 1931-1932 at Harvard University, until his death in 1965.
Wilson set out in 1930 to address, ‘the chief features of pre-Cambrian regional structure within part of central Arizona’, for his Ph.D. dissertation – ‘‘The Pre-Cambrian Mazatzal Revolution in Central Arizona’. His field area included the Mazatzal Mountains, Pine Creek, eastern Tonto Basin or northern Sierra Ancha, Del Rio, and the southern Black Hills areas, all of which contained extensive outcrops of Proterozoic-age rocks. Wilson concluded from his observations of the field relationships of rocks and structures that the ‘principal features of regional structure originated from a great pre-Cambrian crustal disturbance’, which he called the ‘Mazatzal Revolution’.
Wilson’s ‘Mazatzal Revolution’ was an early contribution to deconstructing the processes responsible for the geology of central Arizona. He noted, ‘The subparallel folds, thrust faults, and imbricate, steeply dipping reverse faults clearly resulted from intense northwest-southeastward regional compression. The transverse faults are believed to have been formed, also during the compression, by shearing normal to the trend of the folds.’
Wilson hypothesized, too, that, ‘structural weaknesses inherited from the Mazatzal Revolution may have influenced the localization of many of Arizona's prevailingly northeastward-trending veins and the pattern of the Tertiary Basin and Range faulting.’ The orogenic Mazatzal Revolution continues to impact Arizona geology today.
E.D. Wilson ca. 1960s.
Reynolds & Others (2013) on Eldred Dewey Wilson’s contribution to Arizona geology. Wilson published a number of important papers on Arizona geology. According to Reynolds and others (2013), Eldred D. Wilson provided the first geologic map and cogent discussion of the geology and mineral resources of southern Yuma County: “Wilson mapped this hitherto unknown area of southwestern Arizona from 1929-1932. In the process, he discovered a new set of mountains that had been overlooked by previous geologists and explorers. He named this range the Butler Mountains after G. M. Butler, former Director of the Bureau and Dean of the College of Mining and Engineering (Wilson, 1931). Wilson was the first person to describe and map the geology of a large number of mountain ranges in southwestern Arizona. The data from Wilson's 1933 geologic map were incorporated into the 1969 state geologic map.”
See James T. Forrester and Richard E. Moore’s ‘Memorial to Eldred Dewey Wilson 1898-1967’ for more about the life and times of Dr. Wilson.
Note: AZGS thanks an anonymous patron who arranged at his/her own expense with Harvard University to scan Wilson’s dissertation and secure copyright permission from Dewey Wilson to re-release Dr. Wilson’s work as CR-17-C.
Forrester, J.T. and Moore, R.E., 1965 Memorial to Eldred Dewey Wilson 1898-1967. Geological Society of America Bulletin, V. 76, p. 187-191.
Reynolds, S., Spencer, J.E., Richard, S.M., Pearthree, P.A. 2013, The Geological Exploration of Arizona: The Role of State and Federal Surveys and the Geologic Map of Arizona, Arizona Geology Magazine, Winter 2013.
Wilson, E.D., 1922, The Mazatzal Quartzite, a new pre-Cambrian formation of central Arizona. Univ. of Arizona M.S. thesis, 40 p.
Wilson, E.D., 1937, The Pre-Cambrian Mazatzal Revolution in Central Arizona. Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 335 p.