Lithification of Sediments: Definition & Processes

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Determining the Origin of a Sedimentary Rock

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:06 Lithification
  • 0:58 Three Ways…
  • 1:26 Compaction
  • 2:37 Cementation
  • 3:34 Recrystallization
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Lithification is the process that turns loose, unconsolidated sediment into solid sedimentary rock. Learn about the three ways lithification is accomplished, including compaction, cementation and recrystallization, in this lesson.


Sedimentary rocks are created when little pieces of sediment, such as pebbles, sand and clay, join together. Okay, that seems simple enough, but how do these little pieces of sediment stick to each other to form a solid rock?

If you think about it, you could go down to the beach and pick up a handful of sand and try to squeeze the sand grains together really hard, but once you open your hand, the sand will run through your fingers. You could try wetting the sand with water. This would hold the sand together for a short time, but once that water evaporated, the sand grains would once again separate.

So, there must be some trick to get sediments to combine and form solid rock. In this lesson, we will learn about something called lithification, which is the process by which sediments combine to form sedimentary rocks.

Three Ways Lithification Occurs

The term lithification is derived from the Greek language. And it might help you to remember the meaning of this term if you recall that the prefix 'lithos' is Greek for 'rock.' So, we are really looking at the making of rock when we study lithification. There are two main ways that lithification occurs: compaction and cementation. We will also touch on a third way that is important to some sediments, called recrystallization.


Compaction is the consolidation of sediments due to the intense pressing weight of overlying deposits. Compaction happens when sediments get buried. This literally squishes the sediment grains together, compressing them into a mass. With sufficient pressure and the passage of time, the grains get rearranged and more organized, much like winning a game of Tetris where the majority of the falling tiles fit snuggly together. As the sediments consolidate, the original pore space that divided them is reduced and any water that was in those spaces is squeezed out.

We see compaction happen with all sizes of sediment grains, but generally the larger sediments do not compact as successfully because their large grains are harder to fit together. However, finer grains of sediment, such as clay, tend to lithify better because these fine grains attract each other. For example, if you place a bowl full of grapes, which represents pebble-sized sediment grains, next to a bowl of flour, which represents clay-sized sediment grains, it's easy to see that compaction works better for smaller grained sediments.


Another way lithification of sediments occurs is through cementation. Cementation is the process by which dissolved minerals crystallize and glue sediment grains together. This is an easy term to remember if you think of it like you would a bag of cement. A construction worker will take a bag of powdery cement and mix it with water to bind particles together.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account