Middle Pleistocene mammal faunas of the area of Rome: recent results and ongoing work on the MUST collection
The urban area of Rome and its surroundings (the Roman Campaign, “Campagna Romana”) yielded an exceptional amount of fossil remains of terrestrial large mammals, which are of prime relevance for biochronological correlations and for reconstructing the paleoenvironmental conditions in the Italian Peninsula of the Middle Pleistocene. Apart from the mere quantity, the scientific importance of the Roman fossil record rests on the geochronological constraints that allow to date or correlate several findings, as well as on the dense chronological cover of continental deposits, for the last ~0.8 Ma. On the other hand, the case of Rome is emblematic of the challenges posed by investigating historical fossil collections, for instance, the necessity of a thoughtful integration of historical documentation (e.g., geological maps, museum labels) and indirect geological information (e.g., borehole lithology, the correlation between obliterated fossil sites and extant outcrops), owing to the intense urbanization occurred especially since the 1800s. Fossil-rich deposits of Rome have supplied collections housed in the city’s major museums, geosites, and universities, creating a valuable and unique paleontological heritage. Synthesis and perspective on these entwined aspects are provided herein, offering a geological and historical background alongside an overview of Middle Pleistocene mammal faunas of the area of Rome, with special emphasis on recent results that offer examples of - and how to deal with - different kinds of recoveries (from sporadic finds to systematic excavations), and ongoing work on the collection of the University Museum of Earth Sciences of Sapienza University of Rome (MUST). Reviewing the history of the MUST collection underlines the profound link between the history of the research on large mammal faunas of Rome and the history of the collection itself. The management of the paleontological heritage of Rome, consisting of thousands of remains spanning from isolated teeth to complete skeletons, is a crucial task for providing new data and support for research and dissemination, both of which are carried out at MUST accompanying traditional and yet fundamental efforts, such as cataloging and restoration, with the digital enhancement of the collection.
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