Chert is a fine-grained silica-rich microcrystalline, cryptocrystalline or microfibrous sedimentary rock that may contain small fossils. It varies greatly in color (from white to black), but most often manifests as gray, brown, grayish brown and light green to rusty red; its color is an expression of trace elements present in the rock, and both red and green are most often related to traces of iron (in its oxidized and reduced forms respectively).
Chert occurs as oval to irregular nodules in greensand, limestone, chalk, and dolostone formations as a replacement mineral, where it is formed as a result of some type of diagenesis. Where it occurs in chalk, it is usually called flint. It also occurs in thin beds, when it is a primary deposit (such as with many jaspers and radiolarites). Thick beds of chert occur in deep geosynclinal deposits. These thickly bedded cherts include the novaculite of the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and similar occurrences in Texas in the United States. Thebanded iron formations of Precambrian age are composed of alternating layers of chert and iron oxides.
Chert also occurs in diatomaceous deposits and is known as diatomaceous chert. Diatomaceous chert consists of beds and lenses ofdiatomite which were converted during diagenesis into dense, hard chert. Beds of marine diatomaceous chert comprising strata several hundred meters thick have been reported from sedimentary sequences such as the Miocene Monterey Formation of California and occur in rocks as old as the Cretaceous.
There is much confusion concerning the exact meanings and differences among the terms "chert", "chalcedony" and "flint" (as well as their numerous varieties). In petrology the term "chert" is used to refer generally to all rocks composed primarily of microcrystalline, cryptocrystalline and microfibrous quartz. The term does not include quartzite. Chalcedony is a microfibrous (microcrystaline with a fibrous structure) variety of quartz.
Strictly speaking, the term "flint" is reserved for varieties of chert which occur in chalk and marly limestone formations. Among non-geologists (in particular among archaeologists), the distinction between "flint" and "chert" is often one of quality - chert being lower quality than flint. This usage of the terminology is prevalent in America and is likely caused by early immigrants who imported the terms from England where most true flint (that found in chalk formations) was indeed of better quality than "common chert" (from limestone formations).
Among petrologists, chalcedony is sometimes considered separately from chert due to its fibrous structure. Since many cherts contain both microcrystaline and microfibrous quartz, it is sometimes difficult to classify a rock as completely chalcedony, thus its general inclusion as a variety of chert.
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