Rocks in the Earth's uppermost sub-oceanic mantle, known as abyssal peridotites, have lost variable but generally large amounts of basaltic melt, which subsequently forms the oceanic crust. This process preferentially removes from the peridotite some major constituents such as aluminium, as well as trace elements that are incompatible in mantle minerals (that is, prefer to enter the basaltic melt), such as the rare-earth elements. A quantitative understanding of this important differentiation process has been hampered by the lack of correlation generally observed between major- and trace-element depletions in such peridotites. Here we show that the heavy rare-earth elements in abyssal clinopyroxenes that are moderately incompatible are highly correlated with the Cr/(Cr + Al) ratios of coexisting spinels. This correlation deteriorates only for the most highly incompatible elements-probably owing to late metasomatic processes. Using electron- and ion-microprobe data from residual abyssal peridotites collected on the central Indian ridge, along with previously published data, we develop a quantitative melting indicator for mantle residues. This procedure should prove useful for relating partial melting in peridotites to geodynamic variables such as spreading rate and mantle temperature.