Agates from the Bighorn district in Montana (USA), the so-called Dryhead area, and their adjacent host rocks have been examined in the present study. Analyses by XRD, polarizing microscopy, LA-ICP-MS, cathodoluminescence (CL), SEM and of oxygen isotopes were performed to obtain information surrounding the genesis of this agate type.
Investigations of the agate microstructure by polarizing microscopy and CL showed that chalcedony layers and macrocrystalline quartz crystals may have formed by crystallization from the same silica source by a process of self-organization. High defect densities and internal structures (e.g. sector zoning) of quartz indicate that crystallization went rapidly under non-equilibrium conditions. Most trace-element contents in macrocrystalline quartz are less than in chalcedony due to a process of `self-purification', which also caused the formation of Fe oxide inclusions and spherules.
Although the agates formed in sedimentary host rocks, analytical data indicate participation of hydrothermal fluids during agate formation. Trace elements (REE distribution patterns, U contents up to 70 ppm) and CL features of agate (transient blue CL), as well as associated minerals (fluorite, REE carbonates) point to the influence of hydrothermal processes on the genesis of the Dryhead agates. However, formation temperatures <120°C were calculated from O-isotope compositions between 28.9‰ (quartz) and 32.2‰ (chalcedony).