Septarian Concretion
Septarian from Muddy Creek, Orderville, Kane Co., Utah. Credit Rob Lavinsky

A concretion is a hard, compact mass of matter formed by the precipitation of mineral cement within the spaces between particles, and is found in sedimentary rock or soil. Septarian concretions are concretions containing angular cavities or cracks, called "septaria". The septaria are the calcite filled cracks at the centre of the rock, indicating where the centres of the concretions have shrunk, possibly during dehydration during its long transformative journey.

Cracks are highly variable in shape and volume, as well as the degree of shrinkage they indicate. Although it has commonly been assumed that concretions grew incrementally from the inside outwards, the fact that radially oriented cracks taper towards the margins of septarian concretions is taken as evidence that in these cases the periphery was stiffer while the inside was softer, presumably due to a gradient in the amount of cement precipitated.

The process that created the septaria that characterize septarian concretions remains unclear. A number of mechanisms have been proposed, including the dehydration of clay-rich, gel-rich, or organic-rich cores; shrinkage of the concretion's center; expansion of gases produced by the decay of organic matter; or brittle fracturing or shrinkage of the concretion interior by either earthquakes or compaction.

Septarian Concretion
Calcite inside Septarian concretion. photo: DweadPiwateWoberts

Septaria usually contain crystals, often calcite, that precipitated from circulating solutions. Siderite or pyrite coatings are also occasionally observed on the wall of the cavities present in the septaria, giving rise respectively to a panoply of bright reddish and golden colors.

A spectacular example of septarian concretions, which are as much as 3 meters (9.8 feet) in diameter, are the Moeraki Boulders. These concretions are found eroding out of Paleocene mudstone of the Moeraki Formation exposed along the coast near Moeraki, South Island, New Zealand. They are composed of calcite-cemented mud with septarian veins of calcite and rare late-stage quartz and ferrous dolomite.

Septarian Concretion
Moeraki Boulders.
Very similar concretions, which are as much as 3 meters (9.8 feet) in diameter and called "Koutu Boulders", litter the beach between Koutu and Kauwhare points along the south shore of the Hokianga Harbour of Hokianga, North Island, New Zealand. The much smaller septarian concretions found in the Kimmeridge Clay exposed in cliffs along the Wessex Coast of England are more typical examples of septarian concretions.

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