Old Red Sandstone

assemblage of Devonian rocks in Great Britain, Ireland, Norway and northeastern North America, consisting of sedimentary rocks including reddish sandstone

The Old Red Sandstone is a dark red sandstone laid down mainly in the Devonian period over a large part of the continent of Laurussia. The base of the ORS is now known to be in the Silurian and the top in the Carboniferous.[2]

Hutton's angular unconformity is at Siccar Point where 345 million year old Devonian Old Red Sandstone overlies 425 million year old Silurian greywacke.[1]
Siccar Point: eroded and gently sloping Devonian Old Red Sandstone layers cap over conglomerate layer and older vertically bedded Silurian greywacke rocks.
St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney, built of local sandstone
The unconformity at Jedburgh: illustrated by John Clerk in 1787 with a recent photography by Keith Montgomery
The Old Red Sandstone Continent in the Devonian

Laurussia is often called the Old Red Continent, or Euramerica. It included what is now much of northern Europe, Greenland and North America. It was, at the time, between 0o and 30o south of the equator.



The Old Red Sandstone (ORS) was first discovered in Great Britain, and it played a big part in early geology.[3] The term 'Old Red Sandstone' was first used in 1821 by Scottish naturalist and mineralogist Robert Jameson.

In 1787 James Hutton saw what is now known as Hutton's Unconformity at Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders.

Later, on the Berwickshire coast, he found Siccar Point. There was "a beautiful picture of this junction washed bare by the sea",[4] where 345 million year old Devonian Old Red Sandstone overlies 425 million year old Silurian greywacke.[1][5]

The sequence of events


The unconformity represents a gap in the record of geological time. During this time the rocks were raised above sea level, and erosion took place. Folding and faulting occurred. The mountains were formed when a section of northwestern Europe collided with a continental plate made up of parts of present-day North America and Greenland. The lower strata tilted almost vertical.

The ORS rocks were deposited in a series of low-lying terrestrial basins, with lakes and rivers. These basins were between ranges of the Caledonian mountains. The ORS was laid down in this non-marine terrestrial environment. Thick deposits of sand and mud, 11,000 metres (36,000 feet) deep, often stained red by oxidized iron minerals, collected as the basins sank down.

The ORS was laid down over a long period of time from the latest Silurian to the earliest Carboniferous (Mississippian), 418–355 million years ago.[6][7]



The ORS is a rock formation which varies from place to place as the circumstances at the time must have varied.

The dark red colour of these rocks comes from iron oxide. However, not all the Old Red Sandstone is red or sandstone — the sequence also includes conglomerates, mudstones, siltstones and thin limestones and colours can range from grey and green through red to purple.

These deposits got sediment from the erosion of the Caledonian Mountain chain. This was built by the collision of the former continents to make the Old Red Sandstone Continent. This sequence is known as the Caledonian orogeny.



  1. 1.0 1.1 Cliff Ford (2 September 2003). "Siccar Point". Field Excursion preview. University of Edinburgh School of GeoSciences. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
  2. Barclay W.J.; Browne M.A.E.; McMillan A.A.; Pickett E.A.; Stone P.; Wilby P.R., eds. (2005). "1: Introduction to the Old Red Sandstone of Great Britain" (PDF). The Old Red Sandstone of Great Britain. Geological Conservation Review Series. Vol. 31. Joint Nature Conservation Committee. ISBN 978-1-86107-543-7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 March 2012. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  3. Miller, Hugh 1841. The Old Red Sandstone. Edinburgh.
  4. "Hutton's journeys to prove his theory". Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2011-03-30.
  5. Rance, Hugh (1999). "Hutton's unconformities" (PDF). Historical geology: the present is the key to the past. QCC Press. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-12-03. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
  6. Barclay, W.J. (2005). The Old Red Sandstone of Great Britain. Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). ISBN 186107543X. Archived from the original on 2010-10-13. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  7. British Geological Survey: Stratigraphical framework for the Devonian (Old Red Sandstone) rocks of Scotland.