Marble is a non-foliated metamorphic rock composed of recrystallized carbonate minerals, most commonly calcite or dolomite. Geologists use the term “marble” to refer to metamorphosed limestone; however, stonemasons use the term more broadly to encompass unmetamorphosed limestone. Marble is commonly used for sculpture and as a building material.
The word “marble” derives from the Greek μάρμαρον (mármaron), from μάρμαρος (mármaros), “crystalline rock, shining stone”, perhaps from the verb μαρμαίρω (marmaírō), “to flash, sparkle, gleam”; R. S. P. Beekes has suggested that a “Pre-Greek origin is probable.”
This stem is also the basis for the English word marmoreal, meaning “marble-like.” While the English term resembles the French marbre, most other European languages (e.g. Spanish mármol, Italian marmo, Portuguese mármore, Romanian marmură, Welsh marmor, German, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish marmor, Persian and Irish marmar, Dutch marmer, Slovenian marmor, Polish marmur, Turkish mermer, Czech mramor, Magyar márvány and Russian мрáмор) follow the original Greek.
Marble is a rock resulting from metamorphism of sedimentary carbonate rocks, most commonly limestone or dolomite rock. Metamorphism causes variable recrystallization of the original carbonate mineral grains. The resulting marble rock is typically composed of an interlocking mosaic of carbonate crystals. Primary sedimentary textures and structures of the original carbonate rock (protolith) have typically been modified or destroyed.
Pure white marble is the result of metamorphism of a very pure (silicate-poor) limestone or dolomite protolith. The characteristic swirls and veins of many colored marble varieties are usually due to various mineral impurities such as clay, silt, sand, iron oxides, or chert which were originally present as grains or layers in the limestone. Green coloration is often due to serpentine resulting from originally high magnesium limestone or dolostone with silica impurities. These various impurities have been mobilized and recrystallized by the intense pressure and heat of the metamorphism.
White marble has been prized for its use in sculptures since classical times. This preference has to do with its softness, which made it easier to carve, relative isotropy and homogeneity, and a relative resistance to shattering. Also, the low index of refraction of calcite allows light to penetrate several millimeters into the stone before being scattered out, resulting in the characteristic waxy look which gives “life” to marble sculptures of any kind, which is why many sculptors preferred and still prefer marble for sculpting.
Construction marble is a stone which is composed of calcite, dolomite or serpentine which is capable of taking a polish. More generally in construction, specifically the dimension stone trade, the term “marble” is used for any crystalline calcitic rock (and some non-calcitic rocks) useful as building stone. For example, Tennessee marble is really a dense granular fossiliferous gray to pink to maroon Ordovician limestone that geologists call the Holston Formation.
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