We have discovered a robust microcrystalline record of the early genesis of North American lithosphere preserved in the U-Pb age and oxygen isotope zoning of zircons from a lower crustal paragneiss in the Neoarchean Superior province. Detrital igneous zircon cores with ??18O values of 5.1???-7.1??? record creation of primitive to increasingly evolved crust from 2.85 ?? 0.02 Ga to 2.67 ?? 0.02 Ga. Sharp chemical unconformity between cores and higher ??18O (8.4???-10.4???) metamorphic overgrowths as old as 2.66 ?? 0.01 Ga dictates a rapid sequence of arc unroofing, burial of detrital zircons in hydrosphere-altered sediment, and transport to lower crust late in upper plate assembly. The period to 2.58 ?? 0.01 Ga included ???80 m.y. of high-temperature (???700-650 ??C), nearly continuous overgrowth events reflecting stages in maturation of the subjacent mantle root. Huronian continental rifting is recorded by the youngest zircon tip growth at 2512 ?? 8 Ma (??? 600 ??C) signaling magma intraplating and the onset of rigid plate behavior. This >150 m.y. microscopic isotope record in single crystals demonstrates the sluggish volume diffusion of U, Pb, and O in zircon throughout protracted regional metamorphism, and the consequent advances now possible in reconstructing planetary dynamics with zircon zoning. ?? 2008 The Geological Society of America.