A recent database and world distribution map of carbonatites supports previous observations of the spatial and temporal aspects of these rocks, and provides new observations that are important for understanding their petrogenesis. These data reveal that there is an overwhelming concentration of carbonatites in Precambrian cratonic areas, most of which are elevated topographically. Thus, although approximately two-thirds of carbonatites are Phanerozoic in age, at least 88% of all dated carbonatites are located in the cratons, demonstrating a remarkable tendency for a Precambrian host. This observation suggests a link with kimberlites as diamond-bearing kimberlites are confined to the Archaean areas of cratons. The age data show that in many carbonatite-bearing provinces there has been repetition of carbonatite emplacement, with up to five episodes separated by hundreds of millions of years. In at least three provinces such activity extends from the late Archaean to relatively recent times and, because of the drift of the plates, this would seem to preclude any direct role for mantle plumes in carbonatite genesis. Magmatism is activated when lithosphere lesions are reopened in response to major changes in global plate movement patterns.