Sedimentary cherts, with well-preserved microfossils, are known from the Archean to the present, yet their origins remain poorly understood. Lake Magadi, Kenya, has been used as a modern analog system for understanding the origins of nonbiogenic chert. We present evidence for synsedimentary formation of Magadi cherts directly from siliceous gels. Petrographic thin-section analysis and field-emission scanning electron microscopy of cherts from cores drilled in Lake Magadi during the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project in 2014 led to the discovery of two-dimensional branching “labyrinth patterns” in chert, which are a type of fractal “squeeze” pattern formed at air-liquid interfaces. Labyrinth patterns preserved in chert from Lake Magadi cores indicate invasion of air along planes in dewatering gels. These patterns support the precipitation of silica gels in the saline-alkaline Lake Magadi system and syndepositional drying of gels in contact with air as part of chert formation. Recognizing cherts as syndepositional has been critical for our use of them for U-Th dating.
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