Kaolinitic tonsteins of altered synsedimentary volcanic ash-fall origin are well developed in the Late Permian coal-bearing formations of eastern Yunnan Province. Because of their unique origin, wide lateral extent, relatively constant thickness and sharp contacts with enclosing strata, great importance has been attached to these isochronous petrographic markers. In order to compare tonsteins with co-existing, non-cineritic claystones and characterize the individuality of tonsteins from different horizons for coal bed correlation, a semi-quantitative method was developed that is based on statistical analyses of the concentration and morphology of zircons and their spatial distribution patterns. This zircon-based analytical method also serves as a means for reconstructing volcanic ash-fall dispersal patterns. The results demonstrate that zircons from claystones of two different origins (i.e., tonstein and non-cineritic claystone) differ greatly in their relative abundances, crystal morphologies and spatial distribution patterns. Tonsteins from the same area but from different horizons are characterized by their own unique statistical patterns in terms of zircon concentration values and morphologic parameters (crystal length, width and the ratio of these values), thus facilitating stratigraphic correlation. Zircons from the same tonstein horizon also show continuous variation in these statistical patterns as a function of areal distribution, making it possible to identify the main path and direction in which the volcanic source materials were transported by prevailing winds. ?? 1994.