Natural onyx agate from Mali was investigated in an integrated mineralogical and chemical study to reveal the origin of the unusual black colouration. Detailed studies by polarizing microscopy, scanning electron microscopy and micro-Raman spectroscopy showed that the colour of the dark bands is related to the incorporation of small particles of carbon (low-crystalline graphite) up to 200 nm in size into the cryptocrystalline silica matrix. The dark bands have carbon contents of 1.88 wt.%. The location of the graphite particles is closely related to the primary structural banding in the chalcedony. Cathodoluminescence data shows that the banding is interrupted by small fissures containing secondary hydrothermal quartz. The carbon isotope composition (δ13C value of −31.1±0.2‰) of the carbonaceous material points to an organic precursor. Both the direct hydrothermal formation of graphite from methane under elevated temperature and the graphitization of organic precursors by secondary hydrothermal or metamorphic overprint are possible explanations for the colour of the dark bands. The graphitization of organic precursors results in an intense electron spin resonance line at geff = 2.0026.

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