ARMORED MUD BALLS -- One of geology's rarest "Sedimentary Structures"
SEE THEM IN GREENFIELD, GILL, AND TURNERS FALLS MASSACHUSETTS!!!
SEE THEM IN GREENFIELD, GILL, AND TURNERS FALLS MASSACHUSETTS!!!
You can help. Read on. Spread the word. Contact your Massachusetts legislators.
The material on this web site is "public domain"
1. "One Page Overview" Also see the "origins" cartoon by Bertozzi and Dandrow , click "ORIGINS CARTOON" box in page "header" title above
2. Save The Armored Mud Balls Project...you can also click on a 5 minute video.
NEW VIDEO LINK (Feb. 2022): https://youtu.be/P38Qa0mYpLk
3. Where to See Them: an overview page plus a pdf with exact locations.
4. Formation: A quick look with a present day armored mud ball analogy from Utah.
5. Graphic Representations / Diagrams of Formation: "cartoons" to illustrate this geologic phenomenon
6. More Information....including Photos of almost all Lithified and Recent Armored Mud Balls.
This is the only (and therefore "the best") presentation of photos of armored mud balls.!
7. Supporters and Comments (from emails and the online petition you can sign)
8. Technical Report This file includes a lot of armored mud ball references. Take a deeper dive into the science of these rare sedimentary structures.
9. Prof. Little Tells All...questions, send a rock picture, suggestions, comments.....
10. NEW: buy an embroidered Armored Mud Ball Hat for $20 (at cost, includes shipping and tax) OR a colorful T Shirt with Armored Mud Balls + Podokesaurus and a Will Sillin landscape, too. Please see the "Order Products" page on the Earthview.rocks site or a page at the end of this site.
[This nice hat was designed & made by Mantis Graphics, Easthampton]
11. For The Press: These experts will answer questions and provide comments.
Two geologist / educators are the major promoters of this "Save the Armored Mud Ball" campaign: Richard Little, Prof. Emeritus, Greenfield Comm. College (RDLittle2000@aol.com / email@example.com) and Thomas Vaughn, adjunct professor, Northeastern Univ. ( firstname.lastname@example.org) Many Massachusetts (and other) geologists and enthusiasts are also supporters. See item 7, above.
To Promote the rare Massachusetts Jurassic age armored mud balls (AMBs) to become a State “Sedimentary Structure.” This official "State Symbol" designation would preserve, protect, educate the public, and celebrate these unique geologic features. (They are more important and rare compared to other State Symbols such as the Corn Muffin and Boston Cream Donut!) A "sedimentary Structure" is a geologic feature formed before the sediment layers solidify, such as fossils, ripple marks, mud cracks, etc. These 200 million year old features are now "lithified" -- turned to stone.
These amusingly named, very rare geologic forms are important in that they document interesting and hard-to-preserve Earth events. Plus these photogenic, well preserved samples such as seen at Greenfield Community College's Geology Path, make people smile and provide a good link to understanding science and Earth history.
The State Symbol Project has the support of 3 State Reps. -- Paul Mark, Jack Lewis, and Sean Garballey -- plus many from the geo science community and the public. Over 1100 people have visited the web site to learn more. The uniqueness of the Massachusetts AMBs is recognized by the State Geologist. It is planned to submit official legislation for this designation in January of 2023.
Sign The Petition at
This project is being organized by Richard D. Little, Prof. Emeritus, Greenfield Community College, the discoverer of these rare features in the 1970's and Prof. Thomas Vaughn, Northeastern Univ. Our volunteer efforts are supported and assisted by many others. See the 5 minute video for more information and you can also make a donation to help with expenses via https://gofund.me/0afef504
Photo: Prof. Richard Little, the discoverer of Mesozoic lithified armored mud balls in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts, in an historic bridge foundation, Unity Park (by the Connecticut River), Turners Falls, MA. (c. 1970)
**SEE ESSENTIAL PHOTOS, DOCUMENTATION & COMMENTARY PDF BELOW**
Richard D. Little is Prof. Emeritus of Geology at Greenfield Community College and leads small group "Fantastic Landscape Tours" to US National Parks plus Iceland and Scotland. Local trips, too. You can join his "Local Geo" email list if you wish.
Prof. Little came to Greenfield Community College from Southern California in 1969. He quickly discovered that the Conn. River Valley of Massachusetts is the best place in the world to study geology! His web site https://EarthView.rocks has information about many topics including his two books on Connecticut Valley geology and his You Tube Channel for short video presentations.
LOCATIONS, PHOTOS, DIRECTIONS
There are only 8 outside "in the wild" locations where you can find armored mud balls in Franklin County. These are the only ones easily seen and observed in the whole world. Wow. That's unique! It is another reason why Franklin County is the best place in the world to study geology.
Back in the Jurassic Period, dinosaurs walked through a faulted rift valley caused by the split of the supercontinent of Pangea. It was warm and often rainy with many streams and lakes. Somewhere along one of the many streams, blocks of hard mud from a former lake bed fell into the rushing water. The mud blocks tumbled, became round, and soft and sticky on their outsides. As they rolled downstream they picked up sand and pebbles from the stream channel. This became the armor.
Now, quick burial (deposition) is needed before the balls dry, crack, and crumble away. These rare sedimentary forms were buried, and eventually turned to stone and preserved in the late Triassic and early Jurassic rock formations exposed in adjacent areas of Turners Falls, Greenfield, and Deerfield, Massachusetts. The pictured AMB is from Turners Falls and is 3 inches long. It is a bit squished by being buried under several thousand feet of sediment before it and its sandy surroundings became a hard rock. The geologic formation is the Turners Falls Sandstone, early Jurassic Period, Mesozoic Era.
Armored mud balls (AMBs) are very rare in the geological record. There are only about 10 sites in the world where lithified (turned to stone) armored mud balls have been found. While quite a number have been seen deposited in stream beds, particularly after floods, these will probably not be preserved in the geological record. They need to be quickly buried and then, over time, lithified. Then, of course, the lithified AMBs have to be exposed by erosion, such as along a river or coastal cliff, or on a hill or mountainside, and next, someone needs to find them.
The only lithified armored mud balls in the world that you can easily see are in Franklin County, western Massachusetts! All others are in rocky outcrops on mountain sides or other remote locations. Erosion can easily destroy these outdoor locations and it is likely most are no longer visible. Therefore if you wish to see and touch armored mud balls, come to Franklin County Massachusetts, especially the monumental samples along the Geology Path at Greenfield Community College.
PHOTO:: Recent (2015) armored mud balls deposited by a stream flood at Factory Butte, Utah. (Will Sillin, photo) These are not lithified and will probably become dried, cracked and disintegrate.
Armored mud balls are rare but often documented as they roll along beaches (photo from UK) and streams. You can search the internet for pictures. However, the real issue, geologically, is "how to preserve them in rock"? Lithifying these delicate balls of mud requires quick burial plus time to harden along with the enclosing sediment. This can take many thousand years. Then, of course, the hard rock with lithified AMBs must be eroded to reach the surface as a rock outcrop which someone must find before it is eroded away. That complicated series of events is what makes lithified armored mud balls so rare.
The Jurassic Period lithified AMBs of Massachusetts are very rare and, in the whole world, there are no better ones to be seen.
Please visit the 14 page PDF below for site for documentary pictures and more commentary.
Besides lots of local Newspaper articles, our local Armored Mud Balls have been documented in the Boston Sunday Globe, Yankee Magazine, and Channel 5's Chronicles series.
ORGANIZATION SUPPORTERS National Assoc. of Geoscience Teachers, New England Section; Conn. Valley Mineral Club; Pascommuck Conservation Trust; Franklin County Historical Societies, Nolumbeka (Indigenous Peoples) Project, New England Historical Society, Mass. Historical Societies (Medford, Norwell) Greenfield Comm. College Foundation, Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.
MASS. LEGISLATORS State Reps. Paul Mark, Jack Lewis, Sean Garballey, Susanna Whipps
GEOLOGISTS Paul Olsen, Columbia; Tom Vaughn, Science Educator; Mark McMenamin, Mt. Holyoke College; John Brady, Smith College; Fred Venne, Beneski Museum; Tekla Harms, Amherst College; Michael L. Williams, UMass; Virginia Irvine (retired); Bud Wobus, Williams College; Steve Bill, Keene State; Don Sluter, UMass; Nikki Hill, Bentley College; Steve Winters, Holyoke CC; Tarin Weiss, Westfield State; Lori Weeden, UMass / Lowell; Patrick Getty, Collin College (TX), Wm. J. Fritz, SICC (NY) Pres. Emeritus and armored mud ball researcher; Callan Bentley, Piedmont CC (VA), Dave Walker, Columbia U.; and many others. Sy Montgomery, Science writer & National Book Award Finalist.
Hundreds of people have signed the Petition -- SEE BUTTON BELOW --
Here are a few comments that were included:
It’s really a national treasure, not seen anywhere else in sedimentary form right here in MA!
These armored mud balls are so rare and significant for our state. We should recognize them as such and make them the official state sedimentary structure. Armored Mud Balls rock!!!!!
Armored mud balls have literally been embedded in Massachusetts since prehistoric times, and this state is the only place in the world where they can be seen. What better credentials could a sedimentary structure have to merit such a designation of honor?!
I am signing because armored mudballs rock! (and probably roll as well)
What a neat discovery and the fact that here in Massachusetts is the rare Armored Mud Ball, well it should be a symbol for MA history going back to Mesozoic time. #rockonMA#ArmoredMudBallStrong
Mud balls are unique and special. As a graduate of Hampshire College and Boston University (PhD, 2012), I find value in protecting and promoting what Massachusetts has to offer.
I learned about the importance of mud balls as a geologic state treasure in College in the 90s from Richard Little. It's important to celebrate what is truly unique about where we live.
I am from NY and I wish we had armored mud balls!
It is a geology-education and fun activity to take kids to Unity Park and challenge them to find the Armored Mud Balls.
and many more......
Armored Mud Balls
In geology, armored mud balls are sedimentary structures formed during the deposition of sediment by streams, waves, or deep-ocean sediment flows (turbidity currents). They were first named by Bell (1940) who observed them deposited in a California field after a flood event . In rare cases, the fragile armored mud balls can be quickly buried and preserved by lithification and therefore become part of the geological record.
Formation Armored mud balls form from eroded, cohesive fine-grained sediment (“mud”). The mud deposits may be eroded by streams along their cut banks or waves undercutting coastal cliffs. Fragments fall into the stream or onto the beach. Next, by stream or wave transport, the mud fragments become round and soft along their margins. As the mud balls roll during transport downstream or along beaches, the surrounding sediment sticks into the mud ball margin. This is the armor. The armor is typically a sand and pebble mix and may include shells along beach environments.
Armored mud balls are also known from deep ocean sediment . Deep ocean sediment flows (turbidity currents) sometimes have sand-armored mud balls that can be transported tens of kilometers. These mud balls originate from submarine canyon erosion and become entrained in turbid density flows which deposit sediment into the deep ocean. Flume studies reveal that the sand armor on the mud ball keeps the ball intact enhancing turbidity flow distance . If the mud balls had disintegrated during transport, the turbidity current would have transitioned into a debris flow and settled quicker.
To preserve the fragile armored mud balls in the geologic record, the balls must be quickly buried before desiccation disintegrates them. After burial the armored mud balls and enclosing sediment layers must be turned to stone, "lithified." Next, erosion is needed to expose the sedimentary rock with the armored mud balls so that they can hopefully be discovered. It is exceedingly rare to find lithified armored mud balls. Several examples are noted below, but the only lithified armored mud balls easily seen today are from Mesozoic rocks in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts.  These are numerous, well-formed, variable sized balls with colorful pebble armor, able to be seen, studied and touched.
The rare lithified armored mud balls of the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts.
In the early 1970’s armored mud balls were discovered by Greenfield Community College geology professor Richard Little in the Jurassic sandstone cable anchors of a now-dismantled suspension bridge over the Connecticut River between Turners Falls and Gill, MA.  Further research by Little expanded armored mud ball locations to Triassic age outcrops in two surrounding towns . Lithified armored mud balls are now known from the late Triassic Period Sugarloaf Formation exposed in Greenfield and Deerfield, MA as well as the early Jurassic Turners Falls Sandstone of Turners Falls and Gill. It is quite remarkable that armored mud balls were formed in the same geographic area and preserved in sediments deposited over a span of several hundred thousand years. The 200-foot-thick Deerfield Basalt, dated at 201,000,000 years ago, is an intervening layer between the Sugarloaf and the Turners Falls Sandstone. As such, it is an excellent time marker of the armored mud ball events.
Some of the excellent armored mud balls preserved in the quarried sandstone blocks of the Turners Falls cable anchor were moved to Greenfield Community College and are preserved along the Geology Path.
Other places where lithified armored mud balls have been noted are listed below. It is quite likely that these locations are no longer visible due to erosion, vegetation cover, or other destructive events. Therefore, the samples from the Mesozoic rocks of the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts are very likely the only ones available for viewing and study. They also have the best range of sizes (from golf ball to basketball) and the most visible and photogenic pebble armor.
Published Lithified Armored Mud Ball Locations (in addition to Massachusetts) with comments.
1. East Greenland, Kap Stosch Area. Triassic armored mud balls, cores eroded, but the armor included fossils from older rock, redeposited in the Triassic beds. Teichert, Curt and Kummel, Berhard; 1976, Permian-Triassic Boundary in the Kap Stosch Area, East Greenland; Meddelelser Om Gronland, Udgivne AF, Kommissionen For Videnskabelige Undersogelser I Gronland, Bd. 197, Nr. 5.
2. Teichert (above reference, p. 45) notes: Austria, "near Vienna", Eocene age "impression" of an armored mud ball found by noted geologist Rudolf Richter, 1926, Pl. 7, fig. 2 in Die entstehung von tongerollen und tongallen unter wasser: Flachseebeobachtungen zur Pal. u. Geol., XVI, Senchkenbergiana, Band VIII, Heft 5/6, p. 305-315.
3. Kugler, H.G., and Saunders, J. B., 1959, Occurrence of armored mud balls in Trinidad, West Indies: Jour. Geol., v. 67, p. 563-565. This article mentions a "fossil" armored mud ball eroded from the Miocene Cruze formation at Erin Point along the south coast. Also mentioned are armored mud balls from Ecuador that were removed from a loose conglomerate layer in the middle of the marine sediments of the Socorro formation in the sea cliffs below Ancon, Ecuador. (p. 564). There is also a note that "Frass records such boulders with shell fragments for pebbles from the Jurassic of Spitzbergen." (p. 563) This article, therefore, references lithified armored mud balls from Trinidad, Spitzbergen, and Ecuador. The article has pictures of weakly lithified Miocene armored mud balls and recent ones from Trinidad.
4. Stanely, D. J., 1964, Large mudstone-nucleus sandstone spheroids in submarine channel deposits: Jour. Sed. Petrol., v. 34, p. 672 - 675. Noted from Eocene marine deposits from France.
This region was also pictured by Romans, Brian; Friday Field Foto #41: Armored mudball (eroded)
FEBRUARY 8, 2008 . It is from the Eocene Grès d’out)Annot Formation of southeastern France
5. Cartwright, L.D., 1928, Sedimentation of the Pico Formation in the Ventura Quadrangle, CA: Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. Bull., v. 12, p. 235-269. "Pudding balls" are mentioned from possible fluvial or shoreline Pliocene age deposits. No photos.
6. Other locations with lithified armored mud balls: Eocene, Green River Formation, Cathedral Bluff Member -- Wyoming and Colorado [https://dynamic-earth.blogspot.com/2011/10/armored-mudballs.html] – several photos of small, hard to distinguish, sand-armored balls in poorly consolidated conglomerate ; Patuxent Formation, Cretaceous, "Atlantic Seaboard" [mentioned in Bell, 1940. No further reference found.] ; coastal cliffs near Coos Bay, Oregon, [noted in a twitter photo with no further information. About a dozen balls, approx. 6 inches diameter, with apparent sand armor. The balls pictured were obvious but at the base of a sea cliff, at the high tide level.] Belt Formation, Glacier National Park, MT. [several sand-armored mud balls]. These locations have been mentioned or photographed, but there is no evidence of distinct lithified armored mud balls with pebble armor.
References 1. Bell, H.S, 1940, Armored mud balls: their origin, properties, and role in sedimentation: Jour. Geology, v. 48, p. 1 – 31.
2 Hizzett, J.L., Sumner, E., Matthieu, J, et al., 2020, Mud-clast armoring and its implications for turbidite systems, Jour. Of Sedimentary Research, 90 (7); 687-700.
3. Little, R.D., 1982, Lithified Armored Mud Balls of the Lower Jurassic Turners Falls Sandstone, North-Central Massachusetts, Jour. Geology, v. 90, p. 203 – 207. [Errata: V. 90, p. 465.]
4. Little, R.D., 2020, Exploring Franklin County (MA), Earth View LLC, Easthampton MA, 200 p.
My web site has more information on PUBLIC PRESENTATIONS (Geology of Your Town, "Magnificance, Mysteries, and Death -- Geology stories from the Conn. Valley Watershed" (a new program, 2021), "Holy Basalt -- the amazing geology of the Holyoke Range" and others
Exploring Franklin County (2020) -- 200 pages explaining local geology with directions to great hikes, drives and walks in most of the towns in Franklin County. THIS IS THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD TO STUDY GEOLOGY. Find out more!
Dinosaurs, Dunes, and Drifting Continents (2003) 3rd. Edition. A billion years of geologic history are explained from times of colliding tectonic plates to the rise and fall of Lake Hitchcock.
All these books have a bit of humor and presented in a complete but not overwhelmingly technical way. See the www.EarthView.rocks web site for order information or Amazon, or your local bookstore.
Want some hands-on fun geology? I lead local tours. Please join my email list for the latest information. Write to me at RDLittle2000@AOL.com
I often get rock or landform photos by email for identification.
The following geo-scientists and educators have volunteered to be contacted
Prof. Mark McMenamin, Mt Holyoke College, Paleontology expert.
Prof. Carsten Braun, Geology / Geography Professor, Westfield State University and resident of Greenfield. 413-575-2030. email@example.com
Prof. Michael L. Williams, UMass, Amherst. firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Tarin Weiss, Geology Professor, Westfield State University. email@example.com
Prof. Steve Winters, Geology Professor (retired) and adjunct, Holyoke Community College. Steve lives in Turners Falls and has written about the armored mud balls preserved in that town in his “Walking Tour of the Geology of Turners Falls”. Science_Matters@yahoo.com
Dr. Ken Galli, Boston College. During his graduate studies, Ken was introduced to the Pioneer Valley AMBs by the noted sedimentary geologist, now deceased, Prof. John Hubert (UMass). Kenneth.Galli@bc.edu mobile phone # 617-797-4202.
Prof. Tom Vaughn. Tom, a master teacher, is now-retired but continues as an active college adjunct in the Boston area. He has seen and used the AMBs in a variety of classrooms. firstname.lastname@example.org, land line - 978 667-1317.
Alfred (”Fred”) Venne, Amherst College’s Beneski Museum of Natural History. “I am always quite proud to bring armored mud balls to the attention of folks - It is a wonderful local story.” email@example.com Office 413-542-5054
Prof. Callan Bentley, had this statement while searching for dinosaur fossils in Alberta: At Devil’s Coulee in Alberta, there are dinosaur bones and …clamshell fossils – yawn. What really got me excited, though, were the armored mud balls” (8 August 2012) Armored Mud Balls – Mountain Beltway – AGU Blogosphere (includes pictures) A google search brings up this article.
Callan is now at Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Virginia
Noted high school and college geo-science educator from eastern Massachusetts presently at Northeastern University.