The complex pattern of biological accretion, internal sedimentation, early lithification, and biological destruction, that characterizes modern reefs and many fossil reefs has been recognized in archaeocyathid-rich patch reefs of Lower Cambrian age in the Forteau Formation, southern Labrador.
Patch reefs occur as isolated masses or complex associations of many discrete masses of archaeocyathid-rich limestone and skeletal lime sands, surrounded by well-bedded skeletal limestones and shales. Each reef is composed of many loafshaped mounds stacked on top of one another. The limestone of each mound comprises archaeocyathids and Renalcis or Renalcis-like structures in a matrix of argillaceous lime mud rich in sponge spicules, trilobite and salterellid skeletons. Numerous growth cavities roofed by pendant Renalcis-like organisms and Renalcis are partially to completely filled with geopetal sediment indicating that much of the matrix was deposited as internal sediment.
Two stages of diagenetic alteration are recognized: (1) syn-depositional, which affected only the reefs, and (2) post-depositional, which affected both reefs and inter-reef sediments. On the sea floor reef sediments were pervasively cemented and fibrous carbonate was precipitated in intraskeletal and growth cavities. These limestones and cements as well as archaeocyathid skeletons, were subsequently bored by endolithic organisms. Later post-depositional subaerial diagenesis resulted first in dissolution of certain skeletons and precipitation of calcite cement above the water table, followed by extensive precipitation of pore-filling calcite below the water table.
These carbonate reefs are similar in structure to the basal pioneer accumulations of much younger lower and middle Palaeozoic reefs. They did not develop into massive ‘ecologic’ reefs because archaeocyathids never developed the necessary large, massive, hemispherical skeletons.
This occurrence indicates that reefs developed more or less coincident with, and not long after, the appearance of skeletal metazoans in the Lower Cambrian.