Sedimentary phosphorites occurring on the sea floor off Peru and Chile have been analyzed for U and Th isotopes, to establish their ages and hence obtain clues for their mode of formation. Fission-track distribution studies indicate that the U is primarily associated with the apatite fraction. Uranium-series disequilibrium methods, therefore, should be applicable, if the U incorporation is syngenetic with the apatite. The fractionation of U isotopes between oxidation states in the relatively young phosphorites from South America is low compared to that in older deposits. This supports the contention of KOLODNY and KAPLAN (1970) that the major mechanism of 234U /238U fractionation is displacement of 234U atoms into sites where they are more 'oxidizable' than the 238U parent. Age estimates based on 234U(IV) and 230Th contents are internally consistent and range from late Pleistocene to Recent. The results indicate that marine phosphorites are currently forming in this area of intense oceanic upwelling. The age pattern during the last 150,000 yr suggests a correlation with eustatic high sea level stands and implies that conditions were more favorable for apatite genesis in this area during interglacials rather than during glacial times.