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Armored Mud Balls

CT Valley Geohistory

Biographical Info

E-mail Richard Little

About This Site

The unique Armored Mud Balls
of the Connecticut Valley
By Prof. Richard D. Little


Many tons of monument-size rocks adorn the Greenfield Community College Rock Park. Most notable of these samples are blocks with armored mud balls, which were removed from the Old Red Bridge’s suspension cable anchor foundation (now dismantled) on the Turners Falls side of the Connecticut River at Unity Park. These examples are the best preserved armored mud balls in the world and the only ones so far discovered that were formed by streams. All of the other eight reported armored mud ball sites around the world represent beach conditions.

The men who removed these blocks from a former quarry in downtown Turners Falls in 1877 must have noticed these strange, round features set in the sandstone matrix, but they were first "officially" discovered by the author in the early 1970s (see Little, 1982 in geology article references). After further research, it was found that these sedimentary features had never been noted by previous geologists working in the valley, and also, that there are very few other locations in the world where they have been discovered.

The valley armored mud balls formed when large pieces of hard, dry mud fell into a stream. As they tumbled in the current, they became round as well as soft and sticky enough on the outside to have streambed pebbles imbed into the soft exterior, forming the "armor". To be preserved, the newly created armored mud balls must be buried quickly in the stream's sandy gravel sediment. Otherwise, drying will disintegrate the balls. So, in Mesozoic Turners Falls, the conditions along the outer edge of an alluvial fan were just right to form and preserve these unique balls. Armored mud balls have recently (1997) been found in a new location, in the upper part of the Sugarloaf formation in an East Deerfield quarry.

Other places in the Connecticut Valley have sedimentary rocks with mud chips, chunks, and balls, but no armored mud balls have ever been discovered. But, keep your eyes open! There must be other armored mud balls in other valley locations.

In honor of their discoverer, some of the armored mud balls bear his name. Armored mud balls less than 6 inches in diameter are known as "Little" armored mud balls : ).

Contact Information

Earth View LLC
Geology Education Products and Services
C/O Prof. Richard D. Little
6 Grand View Lane
Easthampton, MA 01027-1075

Phone / Fax (413) 527-8536