Sedimentary rocks originate from the consolidation of sediments derived in part from living organisms but chiefly from older rocks of all classes (ultimately the mineral elements are derived from igneous rocks alone). The sediments of inorganic origin are chiefly removed from older rocks by erosion and transported to the place of deposition; chemical precipitation from solution is a secondary cause of deposition of inorganic matter. Sedimentary rocks are commonly distinguished, according to their place of deposition, by a great variety of terms, such as continental, marine (i.e., oceanic), littoral (i.e., coastal), estuarine (i.e., in an estuary), lacustrine (i.e., lakes), and fluviatile, or fluvial (i.e., in a stream).
The characteristic feature of sedimentary rocks is their stratification; they are frequently called stratified rocks. Sedimentary rocks made up of angular particles derived from other rocks are said to have a clastic texture, in contrast to pyroclastic sediments, which are particles of volcanic origin. Among the important varieties of sedimentary rock, distinguished both by texture and by chemical composition, are conglomerate, sandstone, tillite, sedimentary breccia, shale, marl, chalk, limestone, coal, lignite, gypsum, and rock salt. Characteristic occurrences in sedimentary rocks are fossils, footprints, raindrop impressions, concretions, oolites, ripple marks, rill marks, and crossbedding. Some of these features are useful in determining the antiquity of sedimentary formations and in interpreting geologic history.