The Upper Red Formation (URF) comprises over 1–5 km of late Miocene siliciclastic sediments in the Central Iran Basin. The formation is dominated by volcaniclastic conglomerates and arenites. The prevailing arid conditions during most of the basin's history resulted in deposition of predominantly organic-poor, red sediments with gypsum and zeolites. This investigation concentrates on the mineralogy and geochemistry of the URF in the southern and northern margins of the basin where the formation was buried to depths of 2.4 and 6.6 km, respectively. Fine fraction mineral separates from the southern margin consist of nearly pure smectite and zeolites at a depth of 400 m and smectite with minor quartz and calcite at 1800 m. Shallow samples (1350 m) from the northern section are rich in smectite, illite/smectite with some discrete illite and chlorite. This assemblage is progressively replaced by discrete illite and chlorite with increasing burial depth so that only these two minerals are found at depths greater than 4300 m. The initial alteration process involved replacement of glass and volcanic lithics by smectite and zeolites in both margins of the basin. Increased depth of burial in the northern margin resulted in the progressive isochemical alteration of smectite to discrete illite and chlorite. Diagenesis of clay assemblages occurred essentially in a closed system. Solute products of glass hydrolysis reactions were retained in highly alkaline, saline ground waters from which zeolites, carbonates and oxides precipitated as cements. It is unlikely that these sediments were ever significantly leached by meteoric waters or by organic acids generated during burial diagenesis. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.