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De Natura Lutorum

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2024

R. C. Mackenzie*
The Macaulay Institute for Soil Research, Aberdeen, Scotland


Despite recent advances in clay mineralogy there is still no generally accepted definition of the terms clays and clay minerals. This problem is discussed from the historical aspect: the similarities of definitions given from the 16th century to the present are remarkable and lead one to consider whether possible simple modifications might not eventuate in some measure of universal agreement. Comparison of nomenclature and classification schemes shows that from the time of Theophrastus to that of Agricola there appears to have been little advance, but a change becomes noticeable by the end of the 18th century, and by the end of the 19th old names, such as porcelain clay, etc., have given place to what are now regarded as names of mineral species or varieties. Only after the 1920’s have satisfactory groupings been obtained, but no internationally acceptable classification has yet been devised. Finally, the various factors operative during clay formation by weathering and diagenesis are discussed, and it is stressed that field and laboratory studies are complementary.

Symposium on Clay Mineral Transformation
Copyright © The Clay Minerals Society 1962

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From lutum—clay. Argilla, which indicates specifically a white clay, and creta, which can also signify chalk, are unsuitable here. The most usual term used by the ancients was terra, but this has rather a wider significance than that intended. Lutum appears to have been used for clay as distinct from “earth” — see Pliny, Nat. Hist., XXXV, 169.


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