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The occurrence of vertebrate fossils in the Apricena quarries area has been documented in the early 1970’s by Dutch researchers and, during the following decades, systematic field studies have been carried out there by several research teams, namely from the Universities of Florence, La Sapienza of Rome and, in recent years, Torino and Ferrara. The recent discovery of lithic artifacts at Pirro Nord documents an early hominin occurrence in the older part of Early Pleistocene, representing one of the oldest early hominin record in Europe. The lithic artifacts are found, associated with the well documented fossil vertebrate assemblage, within the fillings of the extensive karst network characterising this portion of the Gargano peninsula. The Pirro Nord mammal fauna is a post Olduvai subchron age uncommonly diverse vertebrate assemblage, and constitutes a reference (local) fauna for the European biochronology (Late Villafranchian).

Different karst fissures of adjacent quarries, actually representative of the same karst network, yielded the The Pirro Nord mammal fauna. Consistency of taxonomic composition and evolutionary status of taxa in all sampled fissures, as well as the sedimentary pattern of fissure infilling, affords evidence that the fissures were filled over a quite short span of time. The accumulation of large mammal has been due to the infall or entrapment of carcasses within the wider cavities, and by subsequent transport within the karst network when it was flooded. As a matter of fact, the local occurrence of karst deposits having a number of articulated mammalian skeletons is suggestive of circumstances dominated by accumulation of carcasses without fluviatile transport. In other cases, disarticulated, sometimes worn or deeply abraded bones suggest fluviatile transport and pre-burial effects, albeit the state of fossil preservation allows exclusion of any demonstrable taphonomical reworking.

The Pirro Nord vertebrate assemblage comprises 20 species of amphibians and reptiles, 47 species of birds and over 40 mammal species. The latter assemblage is characterised by the occurrence of many carnivore remains: the large hyaena Pachycrocuta brevirostris, three Canidae (Canis aff. arnensis, Lycaon lycaonides, and Vulpes alopecoides); several Felidae, two sabertoot cats (Homotherium crenatidens and Meganthereon whitei), the lynx Lyns issiodorensis, and the large-sized jaguar Acinonyx pardinensis; among Mustelidae Meles meles and Pannonictis nestii are documented. Among herbivores, Perissodactyla are represented by a horse species (Equus altidens) and a rhino (Stephanorhinus cf. etruscus), while among Arctiodactyla are documented the early bison Bison (Eobison) degiulii (first occurrence in Italy of the genus), an Ovibovini indet. and three Cervidae (Megaceroides sp., a derived species of Pseudodama, and Capreolus sp). Finally, the assemblage includes the southen elephant (Archidiskodon meridionalis), the large-sized porcupine Hystrix refossa, and the african large-sized fossil gelada baboon Theropithecus sp.
Pirro Nord also yielded a very rich micrommammal record. Among rodents is present the arvicolid vole Allophaiomys cf. ruffoi, a species known from various Italian Early Pleistocene sites all correlated with with “Mimomys saviniMimomys pusillus” zone, that is between 1.3-1.7My.

The nature of the Pirro Nord paleo-landscape can be inferred from the composition of its vertebrate assemblage. The occurrence of perissodactyls, cheetah, large sized porcupine, abundant vole Allophaiomys, and presence of bird species of Otidae, Pteroclidae and Alaudidae all are suggestive of open landscape having a basically arid climate. However, environment with patchy humid areas is documented by the occurrence of Triturus and Emys within the herpetofauna, Anatidae and Charadriiformes within the avifauna, as well as the soricid shrew Episoriculus gibberodon.

Further Reading

AAVV – Palaeontographica Abt. A, vol. 298/1-6 (2013) – Special Issue: The vertebrate fauna of Pirro Nord (Apricena, Apulia, Southern Italy).

Abbazzi L., Benvenuti M., Boschian G., Dominici S., Masini F., Mezzabotta C., Piccini L., Rook L., Valleri G. & Torre D. (1996). Revision of the Neogene and Pleistocene of the Gargano region (Apulia, Italy). The marine and continental successions and the mammal faunal assemblages in an area between Apricena and Poggio Imperiale (Foggia). Memorie della Società Geologica Italiana 51: 383-402.

Arzarello M., Marcolini F., Pavia G., Pavia M., Petronio C., Petrucci M., Rook L. & Sardella R. (2007). Evidence of earliest human occurrence in Europe: the site of Pirro Nord (Southern Italy). Naturwissenschaften 94: 107-112.

Arzarello M., Marcolini F., Pavia G., Pavia M., Petronio C., Rook L. & Sardella R. (2009). L’industrie lithique du site Pléistocène inferieur de Pirro Nord (Apricena, Italie du sud) : une occupation humaine entre 1,3 et 1,7 Ma. L’Anthropologie 113: 47-58.

Arzarello M., Pavia G., Peretto C., Petronio C. & Sardella R. (2012). Evidence of an Early Pleistocene hominin presence at Pirro Nord (Apricena, Foggia, southern Italy): P13 site. Quaternary International 267: 56-61.

Colombero S., Pavia M. & Rook L. (2012). Pannonictis nestii (Galictinae, Mustelidae), a new element in the vertebrate association of the human site of Pirro Nord (Italy, Early Pleistocene). Geodiversitas 34: 665-681.

De Beaumont, G. (1979). Note sur quelques carnivores (Mammifères) du Quaternaire ancien de la province de Foggia (Italie). Bulletin de la Societé Vaudoise des Sciences Naturelles 74: 217-226.

De Giuli C., Masini F. & Torre D. (1987). The latest villafranchian faunas of Italy. The Pirro Nord local fauna (Gargano). Palaeontographia Italica 74: 52-62.

De Giuli C. & Torre D. (1984). A microfauna with Allophaiomys pliocaenicus from Gargano (Southern Italy). Palaeontographia Italica 73: 116-128.

Delfino M. (1997). Blanus from the Early Pleistocene of Southern Italy: another small tessera from a big mosaic. In Böhme W., Bischoff W. & Ziegler T. (eds.): Herpetologia Bonnensis, Bonn (SEH): 89-97.

Delfino M. (2001). Early Pleistocene Lacerta remains from Southern Italy (Apricena, Foggia): is it Lacerta siculimelitensis? In Viciente L. & Crespo E.G. (eds.). Mediterranean Basin Lacertid Lizards, A biological approach. ICN. Portugal. 147: 21-26.

Delfino M. & Bailon S. (2000). Early Pleistocene herpetofauna from Cava Dell’Erba and Cava Pirro (Apulia, southern Italy). Herpethological Journal 10: 95-110.

Freudenthal M., (1971). Neogene vertebrate from the Gargano Peninsula, Italy. Scripta Geologica 14: 1-10.

Masini F. & Santini G. (1991). Microtus (Allophaiomys) (Arvicolidae, Rodentia, Mammalia) from Cava Pirro (Apricena, Gargano) and other Italian localities. Bollettino della Società Paleontologica Italiana 30: 355-380.

Pavia M., Zunino M., Coltorti M., Angelone C., Arzarello M., Bagnus C., Bellucci L., Colombero S., Marcolini F., Peretto C., Petronio C., Petrucci M., Pieruccini P., Sardella R., Tema E., Villier B. & Pavia G. (2011). Stratigraphical and palaeontological data from the Early Pleistocene Pirro 10 site of Pirro Nord (Puglia, south eastern Italy). Quaternary International 267: 40-55.

Rook L., Martínez-Navarro B. & Howell F.C. (2004). Occurrence of Theropithecus sp. in the Late Villafranchian of Southern Italy and implication for Early Pleistocene “out of Africa”. Journal of Human Evolution 47: 267-277.

Rook L. & Sardella R. (2005). Hystrix refossa Gervais, 1852 from Pirro Nord (Early Pleistoccene, Southern Italy). Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 111: 485-492.

Text by Lorenzo Rook
Photographs by Francesco Landucci, Lorenzo Rook

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