Abstract Data from an outcropping laminated interval were collected and analyzed to test the applicability of a theoretical model describing instability of layered systems. Rayleigh—Taylor wave perturbations result at the interface between fluids of contrasting density, viscosity, and thickness. In the special case where reverse density and viscosity interlaminations are developed, the deformation response produces a single wave with predictable amplitudes, wavelengths, and amplification rates. Physical measurements from both the outcropping section and modern sediments suggest the usefulness of the model for the interpretation of convolute laminations. Internal characteristics of the stratigraphic interval, and the developmental sequence of convoluted beds, are used to document the developmental history of these structures.