Marker horizon

Tephra horizons in Iceland

Marker horizons or chronohorizons or marker beds are stratigraphic units of the same age and of such distinctive composition and appearance, that, despite their presence in separate geographic locations, there is no doubt about their being of equivalent age (isochronous) and of common origin. Such clear markers facilitate the correlation of strata.

The ejecta from volcanoes and bolide impacts create useful markers, as different volcanic eruptions and impacts produce beds with distinctive compositions. Marker horizons of tephra are used as a dating tool in archaeology, since the dates of eruptions are generally well-established.

One particular bolide impact 65 million years ago, Chicxulub, is controversially held to have led to a major extinction event and produced an iridium anomaly that occurs in a thin, global layer of clay marking the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary. [1][2] Iridium layers are associated with bolide impacts and are not unique, but when occurring in conjunction with the extinction of specialised tropical planktic foraminifera and the appearance of the first Danian species, signal a reliable marker horizon for the K–T boundary.[3]

Fossil faunal and floral assemblages, both marine and terrestrial, make for distinctive marker horizons. Some marker units are distinctive by virtue of their magnetic qualities. The Water Tower Slates, forming part of the Hospital Hill Series in the Witwatersrand Basin, include a fine-grained ferruginous quartzite which is particularly magnetic. From the same series a ripple-marked quartzite and a speckled bed are used as marker horizons.

On a much smaller time scale, marker horizons may be created by sedimentologists and limnologists in order to measure deposition and erosion rates in a marsh or pond environment. The materials used for such an artificial horizon are chosen for their visibility and stability and may be brick dust, grog, sand, kaolin, glitter or feldspar clay.[4]


  • Historical Geology of South Africa - JF Truswell (Purnell 1970)

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