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The area around Rocca di Cave, on the Prenestini Mountains near Roma, westernmost sector of the Upper Cretaceous of the Latium-Abruzzi region, during the Cenomanian-Santonian was the margin of a large carbonatic shelf. Fossil reefs and bioherms with a well-diversified association of rudists and other bivalves, gastropods, scleractinian corals, sponges and some rare echinoids form the typical fossil association of this area. A new site near the village of Rocca di Cave allowed to uncover interesting fossils that testify to an one-hundred million year old tropical sea.

These Cretaceous strata have been recently reconsidered, after some new fossils were collected in new outcrops by the Museum Ardito Desio, located in the nearby small town of Rocca di Cave, in connection with the Earth Science Department of the Rome Tre Unviersity.

On the flanks of the road leading to the village, whole bodies of colonial corals of genus Elasmocoenia were recovered in life position in a boundstone, whereas others were found scattered in the calcareous matrix. Elasmocoenia was a scleractinian zooxanthellate genus, and the massive structure of the colonies and individual corallites suggests that they were formed in a high-energy environment. The Rocca di Cave finding allows to extend back the known range of Elasmocoenia, previously only known in Coniacian to Santonian strata (87-83 million years ago).

At a nearby site, on the eastern side of Colle del Pero, about 2 miles from Rocca di Cave, a spectacular outcrop of carbonates with hippuritids and corals of Turonian-Campanian age is visible. Bioherms are characterised by rudists of genus Vaccinites, accompanied by the radiolitid Sauvagesia, abundant nerineid gastropods and others of genus Trochactaeon, together with stromatoporoids and colonial corals.

Some erratic blocks with ammonites are visible on the North-East of the village. The presence of endocasts of pelagic forms like Phylloceras and Turrilites are indicative that these blocks were from a slope environment, on the margin of the ancient carbonate shelf.

Further reading

Carbone F., Praturlon A. & Sirna G. (1971). The Cenomanian shelf-edge of Rocca di Cave (Prenestini Mts., Latium). Geologica Romana 10: 131-198.

Carbone F., Russo A. & Sirna G. (1980). Comunità a coralli e rudiste del Cretacico Superiore di Rocca di Cave (Monti Prenestini, Lazio). Annali dell'Università di Ferrara 9: 199-217.

Fattori C. & Mancinella D. (2010). La Conservazione del Patrimonio Geologico del Lazio: materiali, modelli, esperienze. ARP, Regione Lazio: 1-206.

Grossi F. (2013). Rocca di Cave (M.ti Prenestini, Lazio): segnalazione di una barriera cenomaniana ad Elasmocoenia (Scleractinia). Giornate di Paleontologia XIII edizione, libro degli abstract.

Mariotti G. (1982). Alcune faune a rudiste dei Monti Carseolani: descrizione e correlazione dal bordo occidentale all’interno della piattaforma laziale-abruzzese. Geologica Romana 21: 885-902.

Maxia C. (1954). Carta geologica dei Monti Prenestini (Lazio). Pubblicazioni dell’Istituto di Geologia e Paleontologia dell’Università di Roma 12.

On the web

Museo Geopaleontologico Ardito Desio

Text and photographs by Francesco Grossi

(partially in English)