00757 - Paleontology

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Climate Action Life on land

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

At the course end the student has skills on the classic domains of palaeontology such as palaeobiology, palaeoecology, palaeobiogeography, biostratigraphy and palaeontologic taxonomy. Identification of fossils.

Course contents

Taphonomy. Fossil associations. Biologic, physical and chemical processes in producing skeletal materials. Biostratinomic processes, burial, fossilisation and diagenesis. Fossil deposits. The science of classification. Principles of biologic/palaeontologic nomenclature. Taxonomy and parataxonomy. Evolution. Biologic and palaeontologic evidence of evolution. Development of evolutionary theory from Lamarck and Darwin to the modern synthetic theory. Principles of genetics. Mutations as a primary basis in evolution. Micro- and macroevolution. Species origins. Models of phyletic gradualism and punctuated equilibria. Macroevolution. Origin of new structural plans. Evolutionary trends. Rates of evolution. Biologic crises and adaptative radiations. Origin of life and the main steps in evolution of the biosphere. Evolution of living forms in the Precambrian and Cambrian and a short account of the Ordovician to Holocene palaeontologic record. Palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatical reconstructions. Autoecology and synecology. Marine ecosystems. Zonations of the benthic and pelagic marine environments. Factors limiting dispersal of marine organisms. Overview of the climate system. Climate archives; tectonic- and orbital-scale climate change. Anthropic causes of recent climate variation. Climate and sea-level variations in the last 200 ka. Fossils useful for palaeoclimatic reconstructions. Combining fossil and facies analyses for tracing relative sea-level variations in sedimentary successions. Oxygen isotope stratigraphy. Palaeoichnology: classification and nomenclature of traces fossils; ichnofacies; palaeoenvironmental importance and stratigraphic significance of trace fossils.

Stratigraphy: lithostratigraphic, chemostratigraphic, biostratigraphic, magnetostratigraphic, chronostratigraphic and geochronologic units. Global standard chronostratigraphic scale. Time-scale of geomagnetic reversals. Integrated stratigraphic correlations. Palaeobiogeography. Distribution of the organisms according to models of dispersion and vicariancy. Biogeographic and palaeobiogeographic realms, regions and provinces. Palaeontologic evidence supporting plate tectonics. Peculiarities of insular faunas.

Systematic palaeontology: Foraminifers, radiolarians, diatoms, silicoflagellates, coccolithophorids, sponges including porifers, cnidarians, bryozoans, brachiopods, molluscs, arthropods (mainly trilobites, ostracods, cirripeds, eurypterids), echinoderms, graptolites and conodonts. Morphologic characters, palaeoenviromental significance, evolutionary trends and stratigraphic distribution of these groups. Exercises on identification and description (taxonomy) of fossils. Exercises on palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstruction of a depositional environment using microfossil assemblages.


S. Raffi & E. Serpagli (1993) - Introduzione alla Paleontologia. UTET, Torino.

A. Allasinaz (1999) - Invertebrati fossili. Ed. UTET.

V. Vialli (1998) - Lezioni di Paleontologia. Ed. Pitagora.

Ruddiman W.F. Earth's Climate Past and Future. Freeman and Co. 2008.

pdf files including text and figures from the lessons

Teaching methods

Formal lectures; practical laboratory exercises; field excursions

Assessment methods

The final test includes a practical test on fossil identifications and theory examination, both providing an equal contribution to the final evaluation.

The practical test consists in the description and identification of two macrofossils and two samples with microfossils. Palaeoenvironmental and stratigraphic information concerning the observed specimens are also requested. The theory examination consists in an oral test on the main topics pursued during the lessons, possibly integrated by an exercise of stratigraphy or palaeoenvironmental reconstruction.

Teaching tools

Fossil collections; laboratory tools such as binocular microscopes and floodlights; tools and teaching aids for field excursions

Office hours

See the website of Stefano Claudio Vaiani

See the website of Veronica Rossi

See the website of Federico Fanti