Pyrite replacement of mollusc shells from the Lower Oxford Clay (Jurassic) of England



Replacement of originally aragonite mollusc shells by pyrite commonly occurs in the Lower Oxford Clay. Petrographic studies show the shells to have constituted complex microenvironments in the sediment. A range of replacement textures is found showing a variable amount of solution of the original aragonite. Three distinct textures were found in crushed pyrite-replaced ammonite shells from heavily pyritized concretions.

(1) A texture reflecting the original shell structure due to the replacement of the organic shell-matrix by pyrite.

(2) An ovoid texture seen at several stages of replacement reflecting processes occurring at discrete centres of sulphate reduction.

(3) Euhedral crystals lining cracks and fractures in the shell.

Three types of replacement are found in small gastropods and bivalves from shell bed, some of which may relate to those seen in the ammonites.

(1) Replacement of organic shell-matrix by pyrite preserving good shell-microstructure.

(2) Replacement showing outwardly good preservation of morphological features but inwardly only the gross structure, such as growth lines, is preserved.

(3) Replacement of the shell in a matrix of euhedral pyrite leaving only lines of carbonate inclusions marking the margins of the shell.

The replacement textures and types appear to be dependent on the initial structure of the shell and the access of iron and sulphate into the shell.

Early stages of replacement appear to proceed by pyrite formation within the organic matrix of the shell, with little or no solution of the carbonate, this produces textures which faithfully mimic the original shell microstructure. It is thought that the lack of carbonate solution is due to a limited availability of iron, brought about by the less intensively reducing nature of the sediment. Later stages of replacement are promoted by the cracking and fracturing of the shell and are, generally, not as faithful to the original shell structure. This is due to the greater availability of iron as the sediment becomes more reducing with burial.