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Training objectives

The main skills learned by the student in the course of Paleontology concern the physical and chemical processes that led to the origin of the fossils, the use of fossil in paleoenvironmental reconstructions, dating of the sedimentary successions, biological evolution and paleobiogeography.

The knowledge attained in the course of Paleontology will allow the student to choose and apply the most appropriate paleontological methodologies for the observation and analysis of geological processes and in the study and interpretation of the sedimentary succession. It will also evaluate the role and importance of the fossil record in the physical and biological evolution on Earth and as environmental and cultural heritage.

In the Laboratory of Palaeontology, the student learns the basic systematic knowledge of the most common organisms of the fossil record, mainly represented by protists and invertebrates with mineralized skeletals.

The knowledge attained allow the student to recognize in laboratory and in the field the most common systematic groups of the fossil record, to assess their chronological value and paleoecological meaning.


Basic knowledge of biology, chemistry and geology of high school

Course programme

Paleontology (54 hours, 24 hours of lessons + 30 hours of laboratory).

- INTRODUCTION. Evolution of the fossil concept and history of Paleontology; basic knowledge on the Life on the Earth (6 hours total).
- TAPHONOMY. Incompleteness of the paleontological record, composition of the skeletons in living organisms, causes of death, pre-diagenetic dissolution, disarticulation and transport of skeletals, biostratinomy and diagenesis, fossilization of organic matter and mineralized parts, carbonification and carbonization, coal and charcoal, mineralization with pyrite, calcite, quartz; carbonization, mineralization for impregnation and replacement, mould and cast, classification of fossil deposits and examples (Burgess, Hunsruck, Besano-Monte San Giorgio, Holzmaden, Solnhofen, Bolca, Grube Messel, Baltic Amber, Racho Brea), biostratinomic applications in paleoecology (18 hours total).
- Marine PALEOECOLOGY, mode of life and trophic classification of aquatic organisms, environmental limiting factors (light, temperature, oxygenation, salinity, substrate, nutrients), morphofunctional analysis, paleosinecological analysis (6 hours total).
- ICHNOLOGY, classification of trace fossils and their use in paleoenvironmental reconstructions (2 hours total).
Laboratory: recognition of biostratinomical signature, fossilization processes and elementary aspects of paleoecology (I written partial exam).

- Elements of BIOLOGICAL CLASSIFICATION, concepts of systematics, taxonomy and nomenclature, the species problem in paleontology and intraspecific variability (4 hours total).
- BIOSTRATIGRAPHY, biozone, assemblage, range, acme and interval zones, index fossils, biostratigraphic correlation, resolutive power of biozones. Chronostratigraphy and geochronology, chronostratigraphic and geochronological units, the global stratigraphic scale (8 hours total).
- EVOLUTION and evolutionary theories, Lamarckism, Darwinism, microevolution, macroevolution, Neo-Darwinism, punctuated equilibria, adaptive convergence, living and index fossils, adaptive radiations, mass extinctions, major events in the evolution of life on Earth (8 hours total).
- Elements of PALEOBIOGEOGRAPHY, dispersion and vicariance models; classic examples of paleobiogeography (2 hours total).
Individual pratical activities: use of biostratigraphic methods in the dating of sedimentary sequences (II written partial exam).

Laboratory of Paleontology (60 hours, 24 hours of lessons + 36 hours of laboratory)

Basic elements of biology, taxonomic characters, stratigraphic distribution and paleoecological significance of the following taxonomical groups.
- Cyanobacteria and stromatolites, Coccoliths, diatoms, red and green algae.
- Foraminifera: Fusulinina, Alveolinidae, Nummulitidae and Globigerinacea.
- Porifera and Cnidaria: Rugosa, Scleractinia, Tabulata.
- Brachiopods: Lingulida, Strophomenida, Spiriferida, Rhynchonellida, Terebratulida.
(12 hours lesson; III written partial exam).

- Mollusca - Bivalvia: Pterioida, Veneroida, Rudists; Gastropoda: Archeogastropoda, Mesogastropoda, neogastropoda, Pulmonata; Cephalopoda: Nautiloid, Ammonoidea, Clymeniida, Goniatitida, Ceratitida, Phylloceratida, Ammonitida, Lytoceratida, Belemnitida.
- Echinodermata: Crinoidea ed Echinoidea.
- Graptolites and Trilobites.
(12 lessons; IV written partial exam).

Individual observations /exercises (36 hours of practical laboratory): recognition of the mode of fossilization, classification, paleoecology and dating of fossils belonging to the groups treated in the program. Excursion on the field for observations of fossils and sedimentary successions. At the end of the course the student must submit a written report on the fossils (at least 5) examined during lessons. The report is necessary to access to the final exam.

Didactic methods

Teaching is organized as follows:
- Lectures on all subjects of the course;
- Practical recognition of fossilization processes and paleoecology;
- Individual exercises of biostratigraphy and recognition of fossils belonging to the systematic groups explained in the course of Laboratory of Palaeontology; at the end of the practical activity you have to deliver a written report on the material examined.
- Excursion on the field with observations of fossils.

Learning assessment procedures

Paleontology: 2 written optional tests as indicated in the course program, with about 15 questions with open answers. Laboratory of Paleontology: 2 written optional tests during the course, as indicated in the course program, with about 15 questions with open answers. For each written examination, a time of about one hour is available. The written tests are evaluated with the max score of 32 (laude > 30, <18 insufficient). If tests are insufficient or the student is absent, he must do the oral examination stated in official appeals.

In the final oral examination the student presents and discusses the relationship that drafted during the exercises of Laboratory. No written tests of recovery are provided. During the final oral examination, the student must known and discuss theoretical and practical topics of the course, to test the ability to understand and connect various topics presented in the lectures on the use of fossil in the reconstruction of the history of the Earth.

Reference texts

Materials used during lessons is made available on the course's site. It must be integrated with notes taken in class by student.

Textbooks useful for the study:

ALLASINAZ A., Paleontologia generale e sistematica degli Invertebrati, ECIG.
BENTON M.J., HARPER D.A., Introduction to paleobiology and the fossil record. Wiley-Blackwell.
CLARKSON E. N. K., Invertebrate Palaeontology and evolution. Harper Collins Ac. Publ.
RAFFI S., SERPAGLI E., Introduzione alla Paleontologia, UTET.