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Keywords:

  • Archaeolithoporella;
  • dendritic crystals;
  • neomorphic micrite;
  • speleothem fabrics

Ancient carbonate buildups may contain extraordinarily large amounts of early diagenetic precipitates. In some, host rock lamination may be traced into inclusion bands within the ‘cement’ crystals, suggesting that the crystals are replacive. By analogy with a Pleistocene speleothem from the Sorrento Peninsula, however, these relationships can be explained differently. In the speleothem, large, repeatedly split and dendritic calcite crystals occur within a laminated carbonate. Lamination consists of sub-mm alternations of micrite and microspar. Micritic laminae pass laterally into inclusion-rich growth bands in the dendritic calcite crystals, and have replaced an aragonitic cement, whereas the microspar laminae were primary calcite cements. Three types of inclusion-rich bands occur in the dendrite crystals: (1) with aragonite relicts, (2) ‘ribbon calcite’ and (3) with oriented micropores. When aragonite precipitated, the calcite dendrite branches were unable to keep growing as single crystals and split into crystallites (separated by micropores, some forming ribbon calcite), whereas during episodes of calcite lamina precipitation, the larger crystals were regenerated by crystallite coalescence. Calcite crystals are primary: they did not replace a micritic precursor. By analogy with the Italian speleothem, some ancient reefal sparry carbonates may not be replacements of earlier laminated sediments, but may have grown concurrently with them. It is also probable that some ancient laminated sediments were instead sea-floor precipitates, and that stromatolites containing cross-cutting crystal fabrics, and the alternating micrite-microspar laminae typical of Archaeolithoporella, could be largely abiotic crystal growths.