The Mahneshan Metamorphic Complex (MMC) is one of the Precambrian terrains exposed in the northwest of Iran. The MMC underwent two main phases of deformation (D1 and D2) and at least two metamorphic events (M1 and M2). Critical metamorphic mineral assemblages in the metapelitic rocks testify to regional metamorphism under amphibolite-facies conditions. The dominant metamorphic mineral assemblage in metapelitic rocks (M1) is muscovite, biotite I, Garnet I, staurolite, Andalusite I and sillimanite. Peak metamorphism took place at 600–620°C and ∼7 kbar, corresponding to a depth of ca. 24 km. This was followed by decompression during exhumation of the crustal rocks up to the surface. The decrease of temperature and pressure during exhumation produced retrograde metamorphic assemblages (M2). Secondary phases such as garnet II biotite II, Andalusite II constrain the temperature and pressure of M2 retrograde metamorphism to 520–560°C and 2.5–3.5 kbar, respectively. The geothermal gradient obtained for the peak of metamorphism is 33°C km−1, which indicates that peak metamorphism was of Barrovian type and occurred under medium-pressure conditions. The MMC followed a ‘clockwise’ P–T path during metamorphism, consistent with thermal relaxation following tectonic thickening. The bulk chemistry of the MMC metapelites shows that their protoliths were deposited at an active continental margin. Together with the presence of palaeo-suture zones and ophiolitic rocks around the high-grade metamorphic rocks of the MMC, these features suggest that the Iranian Precambrian basement formed by an island-arc type cratonization. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.