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Defining tafoni: Re-examining terminological ambiguity for cavernous rock decay phenomena

Paradise, Thomas R.; Allen, Casey D.; Groom, Kaelin M.; Mol, Lisa; Hall, Kevin


Thomas R. Paradise

Casey D. Allen

Kaelin M. Groom

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Lisa Mol
Professor of Geomorphology and Heritage in Conflict

Kevin Hall


© 2015, © The Author(s) 2015. Cavernous rock decay processes represent a global phenomenon, ubiquitous to all environments, with the viewable-in-landscape form usually being the final descriptor (e.g. “alveoli”), sometimes alluding to the specific decay process (e.g. “pitting”), other times not (e.g. “honeycombing”). Yet, definitive terminology remains inconsistent, usually owing to variability in dimension, morphometry, distribution, and/or academic lineage. This lack of an established lexicon limits scientific collaboration and can generate scientific bias. With no official consensus on appropriate distinctions, researchers and scientists must either be familiar with all the possible terminology, or know the apparent distinction between “forms”—which can seem arbitrary and, even more frustrating, often differs from researcher to researcher, scientist to scientist. This article reviews the historical and contemporary progression of scientific inquiry into this decay—and, arguably, erosional—feature to identify lexical inconsistencies and promote a singular unifying term for future scholars. Ultimately, the authors support using “tafoni” (singular: “tafone”) as the non-scalar universal term—the form created by numerous processes involved in cavernous decay features—and strongly suggest researchers adopt the same vernacular in order to promote collaboration.


Paradise, T. R., Allen, C. D., Groom, K. M., Mol, L., & Hall, K. (2015). Defining tafoni: Re-examining terminological ambiguity for cavernous rock decay phenomena. Progress in Physical Geography, 39(6), 775-793.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 7, 2015
Publication Date Dec 1, 2015
Deposit Date Jan 6, 2017
Journal Progress in Physical Geography
Print ISSN 0309-1333
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 39
Issue 6
Pages 775-793
Keywords cavernous weathering, honeycombing, tafoni, terminology, rock decay
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