Should the Golden Spike glitter?

Marie Pierre Aubry, John Van Couvering, William A. Berggren, Fredrich Steininger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The Global Standard Stratotype-section and Point (GSSP) concept is the modern standard for defining chronostratigraphic units in the geological time scale, and over the past decade the working groups involved in locating and characterizing GSSPs have rekindled appreciation for stratigraphy within the profession. The rules adopted by the ICS for establishing the GSSP are, however, less restrictive than, and to some extent in conflict with, the principles set forth by the International Subcommission on Stratigraphic Classification (ISSC) under the leadership of Hollis Hedberg (1976). Under the ICS rules, global boundaries may be established ad hoc for units at any level without regard for the constraints of nested chronostratigraphic hierarchy, even while acknowledging that the stage supposedly holds the critical place. Furthermore, the ICS rules, in advocating that GSSPs be located strictly according to their correlatibility, have the effect of requiring preconceived boundaries that correspond to global geohistorical events. These apparently practical shortcuts have serious consequences against which the Hedberg guidelines specifically warned. Not only does the disregard of stage unit- and boundary-stratotypes do more or less violence to the existing literature, but event-based definitions are inherently unstable in stratigraphic space. We review here the problems associated with the definition of a GSSP, using the controversy over the Paleocenel Eocene boundary as a case history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-210
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2000
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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