A pelite (Greek: pelos, "clay") or metapelite is a metamorphosed fine-grained sedimentary rock, i.e. mudstone or siltstone. The term was earlier used by geologists to describe a clay-rich, fine-grained clastic sediment or sedimentary rock, i.e. mud or a mudstone, the metamorphosed version of which would technically have been a metapelite. It was equivalent to the now little-used Latin-derived term lutite.[3][4][5] A semipelite is defined in part as having similar chemical composition but being of a crystalloblastic nature.[6]

The term pelite is not to be confused with pilite, a rarely used name for an altered olivine that has been partially pseudomorphically replaced by an assemblage of carbonate–chlorite–actinolite and can be identified only in a thin section.

Pettijohn (1975)[7] gives the following descriptive terms based on grain size, avoiding the use of terms such as clay or argillaceous which carry an implication of chemical composition. The Ancient Greek terms are more commonly used for metamorphosed rocks, and the Latin for unmetamorphosed:

Descriptive size terms
TextureCommonAncient GreekLatin
Coarse gravel(ly)psephite (psephitic)rudite (rudaceous)
Medium sand(y)psammite (psammitic)arenite (arenaceous)
Fine clay(ey)pelite (pelitic)lutite (lutaceous)

Barrovian facies series

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, George Barrow discovered the classic Barrovian-type metamorphic sequence in the southeastern Scottish Highlands.[8][9] It represents a common type of regional pelitic orogenic metamorphism. He observed that as a pelitic rock undergoes higher pressures and temperatures, its mineral assemblage changes from predominantly chlorite to biotite to garnet to staurolite to kyanite to sillimanite. This later turned out to be overly simplistic.


  1. Wei, Chunjing; Powell, Roger (2003). "Phase relations in high-pressure metapelites in the system KFMASH (K2O–FeO–MgO–Al2O3–SiO2–H2O) with application to natural rocks". Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology. 145 (3): 301–315. doi:10.1007/s00410-003-0454-1.
  2. Wei, Chunjing; Powell, Roger; Clarke, Gordon (2004). "Calculated phase equilibria for low‐ and medium‐pressure metapelites in the KFMASH and KMnFMASH systems". Journal of Metamorphic Geology. 22 (5): 495–508. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1314.2004.00530.x.
  3. Potter, P.E., J.B. Maynard, and P.J. Depetris (2005) Muds and Mudstones. New York, New York, Springer. 279 pp. ISBN 978-3-540-22157-9
  4. Neuendorf, K.K.E., J.P. Mehl, Jr., and J.A. Jackson, eds. (2005) Glossary of Geology (5th ed.). Alexandria, Virginia, American Geological Institute. 779 pp. ISBN 0-922152-76-4
  5. Whitten, D.G.A. (1972). The Penguin Dictionary of Geology. London: Penguin Books. p. 342. ISBN 0140510494.
  6. BGS rock classification scheme
  7. Pettijohn, F. J. (1975), Sedimentary Rocks, Harper & Row, ISBN 0-06-045191-2.
  8. Barrow, George (1893). "On the origin of the crystalline schists: With special reference to the Southern Highlands". Proceedings of the Geologists' Association. 13 (2). doi:10.1016/S0016-7878(93)80026-9.
  9. Barrow, George (1912). The geology of the country around Ivybridge and Modbury: with chapter on altered rocks by G. Barrow.

Further reading

Winter, John (2013). Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology. Pearson Education Limited. ISBN 978-0321592576.

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