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A sample of banded hornfels, formed by contact metamorphism of sandstones and shales by a granite intrusion Hornfels.jpg
A sample of banded hornfels, formed by contact metamorphism of sandstones and shales by a granite intrusion

Hornfels is the group name for a set of contact metamorphic rocks that have been baked and hardened by the heat of intrusive igneous masses and have been rendered massive, hard, splintery, and in some cases exceedingly tough and durable. These properties are due to fine grained non-aligned crystals with platy or prismatic habits, characteristic of metamorphism at high temperature but without accompanying deformation. [1] [2] [3] The term is derived from the German word Hornfels, meaning "hornstone", because of its exceptional toughness and texture both reminiscent of animal horns. These rocks were referred to by miners in northern England as whetstones. [4] [5]


Most hornfels are fine-grained, and while the original rocks (such as sandstone, shale, slate and limestone) may have been more or less fissile owing to the presence of bedding or cleavage planes, this structure is effaced or rendered inoperative in the hornfels. Though many hornfels show vestiges of the original bedding, [1] they break across this as readily as along it; in fact, they tend to separate into cubical fragments rather than into thin plates. Sheet minerals may be abundant but are aligned at random. [6]

Hornfels most commonly form in the aureole of granitic intrusions in the upper or middle crust. Hornfels formed from contact metamorphism by volcanic activity very close to the surface can produce unusual and distinctive minerals. [1] [2] Changes in composition caused by fluids give off by the magmatic body (metasomatism) sometimes takes place. [7] The hornfels facies is the metamorphic facies which occupies the lowest pressure portion of the metamorphic pressure-temperature space. [8]

The most common hornfels (the biotite hornfels) are dark-brown to black with a somewhat velvety luster owing to the abundance of small crystals of shining black mica. The lime hornfels are often white, yellow, pale-green, brown and other colors. Green and dark-green are the prevalent tints of the hornfels produced by the alteration of igneous rocks. [9] Although for the most part the constituent grains are too small to be determined by the unaided eye, there are often larger crystals (porphyroblasts) of cordierite, garnet or andalusite scattered through the fine matrix, and these may become very prominent on the weathered faces of the rock. [10]


The structure of the hornfels is very characteristic. Very rarely do any of the minerals show crystalline form, but the small grains fit closely together like the fragments of a mosaic; they are usually of nearly equal dimensions. This has been called pflaster or pavement structure from the resemblance to rough pavement work. Each mineral may also enclose particles of the others; in the quartz, for example, small crystals of graphite, biotite, iron oxides, sillimanite or feldspar may appear in great numbers. Often the whole of the grains are rendered semi-opaque in this way. The minutest crystals may show traces of crystalline outlines; undoubtedly they are of new formation and have originated in situ. This leads us to believe that the whole rock has been recrystallized at a high temperature and in the solid state so that there was little freedom for the mineral molecules to build up well-individualized crystals. The regeneration of the rock has been sufficient to efface most of the original structures and to replace the former minerals more-or-less completely by new ones. But crystallization has been hampered by the solid condition of the mass and the new minerals are formless and have been unable to reject impurities, but have grown around them. [9]

Compositions of hornfels

Hornfels sample (Normandy, France) Corneenne dielette manche.jpg
Hornfels sample (Normandy, France)


Clays, sedimentary slates and shales yield biotite hornfels in which the most conspicuous mineral is biotite mica, the small scales of which are transparent under the microscope and have a dark reddish-brown color and strong dichroism. There is also quartz, and often a considerable amount of feldspar, while graphite, tourmaline and iron oxides frequently occur in lesser quantity. In these biotite hornfels the minerals, which consist of aluminium silicates, are commonly found; they are usually andalusite and sillimanite, but kyanite appears also in hornfels, especially in those that have a schistose character. The andalusite may be pink and is then often pleochroic in thin sections, or it may be white with the cross-shaped dark enclosures of the matrix that are characteristic of chiastolite. Sillimanite usually forms exceedingly minute needles embedded in quartz. [9]

In the rocks of this group cordierite also occurs, not rarely, and may have the outlines of imperfect hexagonal prisms that are divided up into six sectors when seen in polarized light. In biotite hornfels, a faint striping may indicate the original bedding of the unaltered rock and corresponds to small changes in the nature of the sediment deposited. More commonly there is a distinct spotting, visible on the surfaces of the hand specimens. The spots are round or elliptical, and may be paler or darker than the rest of the rock. [9] In some cases they are rich in graphite or carbonaceous matter; [11] in others they are full of brown mica; some spots consist of rather coarser grains of quartz than occur in the matrix. The frequency with which this feature reappears in the less altered slates and hornfels is rather remarkable, especially as it seems certain that the spots are not always of the same nature or origin. Tourmaline hornfels are found sometimes near the margins of tourmaline granites; they are black with small needles of schorl that under the microscope are dark brown and richly pleochroic. As the tourmaline contains boron, there must have been some permeation of vapors from the granite into the sediments. Rocks of this group are often seen in the Cornish tin-mining districts, especially near the lodes. [9]


A second great group of hornfels are the calc–silicate hornfels that arise from the thermal alteration of impure limestone. The purer beds recrystallize as marbles, but where there has been originally an admixture of sand or clay lime-bearing silicates are formed, such as diopside, epidote, garnet, sphene, vesuvianite and scapolite; with these phlogopite, various feldspars, pyrites, quartz and actinolite often occur. These rocks are fine-grained, and though often banded, are tough and much harder than the original limestones. They are excessively variable in their mineralogical composition, and very often alternate in thin seams with biotite hornfels and indurated quartzites. When perfused with boric and fluoric vapors from the granite they may contain much axinite, fluorite and datolite, but the altiminous silicates are absent from these rocks. [9]


From diabases, basalts, andesites and other igneous rocks a third type of hornfels is produced. They consist essentially of feldspar with hornblende (generally of brown color) and pale pyroxene. Sphene, biotite and iron oxides are the other common constituents, but these rocks show much variety of composition and structure. Where the original mass was decomposed and contained calcite, zeolites, chlorite and other secondary minerals either in veins or in cavities, there are usually rounded areas or irregular streaks containing a suite of new minerals, which may resemble those of the calcium-silicate hornfelses above described. The original porphyritic, fluidal, vesicular or fragmental structures of the igneous rock are clearly visible in the less advanced stages of hornfelsing, but become less evident as the alteration progresses. [9]

In some districts hornfelsed rocks occur that have acquired a schistose structure through shearing, and these form transitions to schists and gneisses that contain the same minerals as the hornfels, but have a schistose instead of a hornfels structure. Among these may be mentioned cordierite and sillimanite gneisses, andalusite and kyanite mica-schists, and those schistose calcite-silicate rocks that are known as cipolins. That these are sediments that have undergone thermal alteration is generally admitted, but the exact conditions under which they were formed are not always clear. The essential features of hornfelsing are ascribed to the action of heat, pressure and permeating vapors, regenerating a rock mass without the production of fusion (at least on a large scale). It has been argued, however, that often there is extensive chemical change owing to the introduction of matter from the granite into the rocks surrounding it. The formation of new feldspar in the hornfelses is pointed out as evidence of this. While this felspathization may have occurred in a few localities, it seems conspicuously absent from others. Most authorities at the present time regard the changes as being purely of a physical and not of a chemical nature. [9]

Hornfels metamorphic facies

Metamorphic facies blanc.svg

T (°C)
Metamorphic facies in pressure-temperature space. The various hornfels facies
occupy the low pressure region of the space.

The hornfels facies occupies the portion of the metamorphic pressure-temperature space of lowest pressure and low to high temperature. It is subdivided into a low-temperature regime of albite-epidote hornfels, a medium-temperature regime of hornblende hornfels, a high-temperature regime of pyroxene hornfels, and an ultra-high-temperature sanidinite regime. The latter is sometimes regarded as a separate facies. Maximum pressures are around 2 kbar and temperatures are around 300-500 C for the albite-epidote hornfels facies, 500-650 C for the hornblende hornfels facies, 650-800 C for the pyroxene hornfels facies, and above 800 C for the sanidinite facies. [8] [3]

The actual minerals present in each facies depends on the composition of the protolith. For a mafic protolith, the albite-epidote hornfels facies is characterized by albite and epidote or zoisite with minor actinolite and chlorite. This gives way to hornblende, plagioclase, pyroxene, and garnet in the hornblende hornfels facies, which in turn gives way to orthopyroxene, augite, plagioclase, and characteristic trace garnet in the pyroxene hornfels facies and sanidinite facies, the latter two being indistinguishable for this composition of protolith. [8]

For an ultramafic protolith, the albite-epidote facies is characterized by serpentine, talc, tremolite, and chlorite, giving way to forsterite, orthopyroxene, hornblende, chlorite, and characteristic minor aluminum spinel and magnetite in the hornblende facies, which in turn gives way to forsterite, orthopyroxene, augite, plagioclase, and aluminum spinel in the pyroxene hornfels facies. The sanidinite facies for this composition differs from the pyroxene hornfels facies only in the disappearance of aluminum spinel. [8]

For a pelitic protolith, the sequence is quartz, plagioclase, muscovite, chlorite, and cordierite in the albite-epidote facies; quartz, plagioclase, muscovite, biotite, cordierite, and andalusite in the hornblende hornfels facies; and quartz, plagioclase, orthoclase, andalusite, sillimanite, cordierite, and orthopyroxene in the pyroxene hornfels facies. The sanidinite facies features quartz, plagioclase, sillimanite, cordierite, orthopyroxene, sapphirine, and aluminum spinel. [12] [8]

For a calcareous protolith, the sequence is calcite, dolomite, quartz, tremolite, talc, and forsterite for the albite-epidote hornfels facies; calcite, dolomite, quartz, tremolite, diopside, and forsterite for the hornblende hornfels facies; calcite, quartz, diposide, forsterite, and wollastonite for the pyroxene hornfels facies; and calcite, quartz, diopside, forsterite, wollastonite, monticellite, and akermanite for the sanidinite facies. [8]

Acoustic properties

Hornfels have the ability to resonate when struck. Michael Tellinger had described these stones in South Africa also known as "ring-stones" due to their ability to ring like a bell. [13] The Musical Stones of Skiddaw are an example of a lithophone made from hornfels. [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

Schist A medium-grained metamorphic rock with lamellar texture

Schist is a medium-grained metamorphic rock showing pronounced schistosity. This means that the rock is composed of mineral grains easily seen with a low-power hand lens, oriented in such a way that the rock is easily split into thin flakes or plates. This texture reflects a high content of platy minerals, such as micas, talc, chlorite, or graphite. These are often interleaved with more granular minerals, such as feldspar or quartz.

Metamorphic rock Rock that was subjected to heat and pressure

Metamorphic rocks arise from the transformation of existing rock to new types of rock, in a process called metamorphism. The original rock (protolith) is subjected to temperatures greater than 150 to 200 °C and, often, elevated pressure of 100 megapascals (1,000 bar) or more, causing profound physical or chemical changes. During this process, the rock remains mostly in the solid state, but gradually recrystallizes to a new texture or mineral composition. The protolith may be a sedimentary, igneous, or existing metamorphic rock.

Amphibolite A metamorphic rock containing mainly amphibole and plagioclase

Amphibolite is a metamorphic rock that contains amphibole, especially hornblende and actinolite, as well as plagioclase feldspar.

Metasomatism Chemical alteration of a rock by hydrothermal and other fluids

Metasomatism is the chemical alteration of a rock by hydrothermal and other fluids. It is the replacement of one rock by another of different mineralogical and chemical composition. The minerals which compose the rocks are dissolved and new mineral formations are deposited in their place. Dissolution and deposition occur simultaneously and the rock remains solid.

Scapolite Group of rock-forming silicate minerals

The scapolites are a group of rock-forming silicate minerals composed of aluminium, calcium, and sodium silicate with chlorine, carbonate and sulfate. The two endmembers are meionite and marialite. Silvialite (Ca,Na)
is also a recognized member of the group.

Granulite Class of high-grade medium to coarse grained metamorphic rocks

Granulites are a class of high-grade metamorphic rocks of the granulite facies that have experienced high-temperature and moderate-pressure metamorphism. They are medium to coarse–grained and mainly composed of feldspars sometimes associated with quartz and anhydrous ferromagnesian minerals, with granoblastic texture and gneissose to massive structure. They are of particular interest to geologists because many granulites represent samples of the deep continental crust. Some granulites experienced decompression from deep in the Earth to shallower crustal levels at high temperature; others cooled while remaining at depth in the Earth.

Blueschist Metavolcanic rock that forms by the metamorphism of basalt and rocks with similar composition

Blueschist, also called glaucophane schist, is a metavolcanic rock that forms by the metamorphism of basalt and rocks with similar composition at high pressures and low temperatures, approximately corresponding to a depth of 15–30 km (9.3–18.6 mi). The blue color of the rock comes from the presence of the predominant minerals glaucophane and lawsonite.

Charnockite Type of granite containing orthopyroxene

Charnockite is any orthopyroxene-bearing quartz-feldspar rock formed at high temperature and pressure, commonly found in granulite facies metamorphic regions, sensu stricto as an endmember of the charnockite series.

Greenschist Metamorphic rocks

Greenschists are metamorphic rocks that formed under the lowest temperatures and pressures usually produced by regional metamorphism, typically 300–450 °C (570–840 °F) and 2–10 kilobars (14,500–58,000 psi). Greenschists commonly have an abundance of green minerals such as chlorite, serpentine, and epidote, and platy minerals such as muscovite and platy serpentine. The platiness causes the tendency to split, or have schistosity. Other common minerals include quartz, orthoclase, talc, carbonate minerals and amphibole (actinolite).

Restite is the residual material left at the site of melting during the in place production of granite through intense metamorphism.

The prehnite-pumpellyite facies is a metamorphic facies typical of subseafloor alteration of the oceanic crust around mid-ocean ridge spreading centres. It is a metamorphic grade transitional between zeolite facies and greenschist facies representing a temperature range of 250 to 350 °C and a pressure range of approximately two to seven kilobars. The mineral assemblage is dependent on host composition.


Litchfieldite is a rare igneous rock. It is a coarse-grained, foliated variety of nepheline syenite, sometimes called nepheline syenite gneiss or gneissic nepeheline syenite. Litchfieldite is composed of two varieties of feldspar, with nepheline, sodalite, cancrinite and calcite. The mafic minerals, when present, are magnetite and an iron-rich variety of biotite (lepidomelane).

An index mineral is used in geology to determine the degree of metamorphism a rock has experienced. Depending on the original composition of and the pressure and temperature experienced by the protolith, chemical reactions between minerals in the solid state produce new minerals. When an index mineral is found in a metamorphosed rock, it indicates the minimum pressure and temperature the protolith must have achieved in order for that mineral to form. The higher the pressure and temperature in which the rock formed, the higher the grade of the rock.

Metamorphic facies

A metamorphic facies is a set of mineral assemblages in metamorphic rocks formed under similar pressures and temperatures. The assemblage is typical of what is formed in conditions corresponding to an area on the two dimensional graph of temperature vs. pressure. Rocks which contain certain minerals can therefore be linked to certain tectonic settings, times and places in the geological history of the area. The boundaries between facies are wide because they are gradational and approximate. The area on the graph corresponding to rock formation at the lowest values of temperature and pressure is the range of formation of sedimentary rocks, as opposed to metamorphic rocks, in a process called diagenesis.

This glossary of geology is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to geology, its sub-disciplines, and related fields. For other terms related to the Earth sciences, see Glossary of geography terms.

Metamorphic zone

In geology, a metamorphic zone is an area where, as a result of metamorphism, the same combination of minerals occur in the bedrock. These zones occur because most metamorphic minerals are only stable in certain intervals of temperature and pressure.

Subduction zone metamorphism Changes of rock due to pressure and heat near a subduction zone

A subduction zone is a region of the earth's crust where one tectonic plate moves under another tectonic plate; oceanic crust gets recycled back into the mantle and continental crust gets created by the formation of arc magmas. Arc magmas account for more than 20% of terrestrially produced magmas and are produced by the dehydration of minerals within the subducting slab as it descends into the mantle and are accreted onto the base of the overriding continental plate. Subduction zones host a unique variety of rock types created by the high-pressure, low-temperature conditions a subducting slab encounters during its descent. The metamorphic conditions the slab passes through in this process creates and destroys water bearing (hydrous) mineral phases, releasing water into the mantle. This water lowers the melting point of mantle rock, initiating melting. Understanding the timing and conditions in which these dehydration reactions occur, is key to interpreting mantle melting, volcanic arc magmatism, and the formation of continental crust.

Catoctin Formation

The Catoctin Formation is a geologic formation that expands through Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. It dates back to the Precambrian and is closely associated with the Harpers Formation, Weverton Formation, and the Loudoun Formation. The Catoctin Formation lies over the a granite basement rock and below the Chilhowee Group making it only exposed on the outer parts of the Blue Ridge. The Catoctin Formation contains metabasalt, metarhyolite, and porphyritic rocks, columnar jointing, low-dipping primary joints, amygdules, sedimentary dikes, and flow breccias. Evidence for past volcanic activity includes columnar basalts and greenstone dikes.

I-type granites are a category of granites originating from igneous sources, first proposed by Chappell and White (1974). They are recognized by a specific set of mineralogical, geochemical, textural, and isotopic characteristics that indicate, for example, magma hybridization in the deep crust. I-type granites are saturated in silica but undersaturated in aluminum; petrographic features are representative of the chemical composition of the initial magma. In contrast S-type granites are derived from partial melting of supracrustal or "sedimentary" source rocks.


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  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Blatt and Tracy, p.378-380, 512
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  11. Dickey, John S.; Obata, Masaaki (1974). "Graphitic hornfels dikes in the Ronda high-temperature peridotite massif". American Mineralogist. 59 (11–12): 1183–1189. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
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  13. "2014 Ancient Hidden Technology of the Annunaki (Fallen Angels)". see from 43 min. Archived from the original on 2016-08-09. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  14. "The Musical Stones of Skiddaw - Allerdale Borough Council". Allerdale.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 2010-06-19. Retrieved 2015-03-17.

Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Flett, John Smith (1911). "Hornfels". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 13 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 710–711.

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