Mudstones and claystones from the southern marginal area of the European Upper Triassic, midcontinental Keuper basin (Silesia, southern Poland) were investigated using XRD, organic and inorganic geochemistry, SEM, K-Ar of illite-smectite, AFT, and stable isotopes of O and C in carbonates in order to unravel the consequent phases of the geological history of these rocks, known for abundant fossils of land vertebrates, and in particular to evaluate the diagenetic overprint on the mineral composition. The detected and quantified mineral assemblage consists of quartz, calcite, dolomite, Ca-dolomite, illite, mixed-layer illite-smectite, and kaolinite as major components, plus feldspars, hematite, pyrite, chlorite, anatase, siderite, goethite as minor components. Palygorskite, gypsum, jarosite and apatite were identified in places.
The K-Ar dates document a post-sedimentary thermal event, 164 Ma or younger, which resulted in partial illitization of smectite and kaolinite. The maximum palaeotemperatures were estimated from illite-smectite as ∼125°C. Apatite fission track data support this conclusion, indicating a 200–160 Ma age range of the maximum temperatures close to 120°C, followed by a prolonged period of elevated temperatures. These conclusions agree well with the available data on the Mesozoic thermal event, which yielded Pb-Zn deposits in the area. Organic maturity indicators suggest the maximum palaeotemperatures <110°C.
Palygorskite was identified as authigenic by crystal morphology (TEM), and calcite by its accumulation in soil layers and by its isotopic composition evolving with time, in accordance with the sedimentary and/or climatic changes. Dolomite isotopic composition indicates more saline (concentrated) waters. Palygorskite signals a rapid local change of sedimentary conditions, correlated with algal blooms. This assemblage of authigenic minerals indicates an arid climate and the location at the transition from a distal alluvial fan to mudflat.
Fe-rich smectite, kaolinite, and hematite were products of chemical weathering on the surrounding lands and are therefore mostly detrital components of the investigated rocks. Kaolinite crystal morphology and ordering indicates a short transport distance. Hematite also crystallized in situ, in the soil horizons. A large variation in kaolinite/2:1 minerals ratio reflects hydraulic sorting, except of the Rhaetian, where it probably signals a climatic change, i.e. a shift in the weathering pattern towards kaolinite, correlated with the disappearance of hematite. Quartz, 2M1 illite, and minor feldspars and Mg-chlorite were interpreted as detrital minerals. The documented sedimentation pattern indicates that in more central parts of the Keuper playa system, where an intense authigenesis of the trioctahedral clays (chlorite, swelling chlorite, corrensite, sepiolite) took place, illite and smectite were the dominant detrital clay minerals.
Cr/Nb and Cr/Ti ratios were found as the best chemostratigraphic tools, allowing for the correlation of all investigated profiles. A stable decrease of these ratios up the investigated sedimentary sequence is interpreted as reflecting changes in the provenance pattern from more basic to more acidic rocks.