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Fracture and vein patterns in the brittle crust of the Earth contain information on the stress and strain field during deformation. Natural examples of fracture and vein patterns can have complex geometries including combinations of extension and conjugate shear fractures. Examples are conjugate joint systems that are oriented with a small angle to the principal stress axis and veins that show an oblique opening direction. We developed a discrete numerical model within the modelling environment ‘Elle’ to study the progressive development of fractures in two dimensions. Results show that pure shear deformation alone can produce complex patterns with combinations of extension and shear fractures. These patterns change in geometry and spacing depending on the Young's modulus of the deforming aggregate and the initial noise in the system. A complex deformation history, including primary uniaxial loading of the aggregate that is followed by tectonic strain, leads to conjugate shear fractures. During progressive deformation these conjugate shear fractures may accommodate extensional strain or may be followed by a secondary set of extension fractures. The numerical patterns are consistent with joint, fault and vein geometries found in natural examples. The study suggests that fracture patterns can record complex deformation histories that include primary uniaxial loading due to an overlying rock sequence followed by tectonic strain.

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