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A half-century has passed since the dawning of the plate tectonic revolution, and yet, with rare exception, palaeogeographic models of pre-Jurassic time are still constructed in a way more akin to Wegener's paradigm of continental drift. Historically, this was due to a series of problems – the near-complete absence of in situ oceanic lithosphere older than 200 Ma, a fragmentary history of the latitudinal drift of continents, unconstrained longitudes, unsettled geodynamic concepts and a lack of efficient plate modelling tools – which together precluded the construction of plate tectonic models. But over the course of the last five decades strategies have been developed to overcome these problems, and the first plate model for pre-Jurassic time was presented in 2002. Following on that pioneering work, but with a number of significant improvements (most notably longitude control), we here provide a recipe for the construction of full-plate models (including oceanic lithosphere) for pre-Jurassic time. In brief, our workflow begins with the erection of a traditional (or ‘Wegenerian’) continental rotation model, but then employs basic plate tectonic principles and continental geology to enable reconstruction of former plate boundaries, and thus the resurrection of lost oceanic lithosphere. Full-plate models can yield a range of testable predictions that can be used to critically evaluate them, but also novel information regarding long-term processes that we have few (or no) alternative means of investigating, thus providing exceptionally fertile ground for new exploration and discovery.
Constructing palaeogeographical maps is best achieved through the integration of data from hotspotting (since the Cretaceous), palaeomagnetism (including ocean-floor magnetic anomalies since the Jurassic), and the analysis of fossils and identification of their faunal and floral provinces; as well as a host of other geological information, not least the characters of the rocks themselves. Recently developed techniques now also allow us to determine more objectively the palaeolongitude of continents from the time of Pangaea onwards, which palaeomagnetism alone does not reveal. This together with new methods to estimate true polar wander have led to hybrid mantle plate motion frames that demonstrate that TUZO and JASON, two antipodal thermochemical piles in the deep mantle, have been stable for at least 300 Ma, and where deep plumes sourcing large igneous provinces and kimberlites are mostly derived from their margins. This remarkable observation has led to the plume generation zone reconstruction method which exploits the fundamental link between surface and deep mantle processes to allow determination of palaeolongitudes, unlocking a way forward in modelling absolute plate motions prior to the assembly of Pangaea. The plume generation zone method is a novel way to derive ‘absolute’ plate motions in a mantle reference frame before Pangaea, but the technique assumes that the margins of TUZO and JASON did not move much and that Earth was a degree-2 planet, as today.