The Murge of Altamura

Date of Submission: 01/06/2006
Criteria: (iii)(vii)(viii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities
State, Province or Region:

Region: Puglia - Province: Bari


Ref.: 5009
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Description

The territory of Apulia, which is a narrow strip of land, can be subdivided into five sub-regions; three of them  - Gargano, Murge, and Salento - are composed of a powerful sequence of limestone rock that was deposited in a shallow sea during the Mesozoic Age, between 200 and 100 million years ago. In particular, the Murge are a wide area of tableland, 50 Km wide and 150 Km long, of a basically rectangular shape, with a North-West to South-East orientation; they are mostly part of the Bari province, whilst a minor part of them is located in Brindisi and Taranto provinces. The northwestern portion, called "Murgia Alta", that is high Murgia, is a slightly hilly tableland area sloping towards the Adriatic Sea by a series of blunt-edged terraces. The whole area is marked by karstic phenomena related to the dissolution of calcium carbonate stone by rainfall, which has given rise to caves, swallow holes and dolines - some of them quite large and deep, locally termed as "puli" (see the pulo of Altamura). This area is almost stripped bare of vegetation and poor in surface running water on account of the thick mesh of stone cracks that channel all the rainfall towards the underlying karstic water layer; it is a bleak landscape where traditional forms of human settlement have been preserved. In addition to these landscape features, the Altamura area includes items of outstanding cultural and archaeological interest as shown by two locations - the De Lucia quarry, with thousands of dinosaur footprints dating back to about 70 million years ago, and the Lamalunga cave, where the complete skeleton of a man from the end of mid-Pleistocene can be seen. Both of them bear a unique testimony to the history of Earth and to the evolution of our species.

In 1999, 5 Km from Altamura, there was discovered the presence of dinosaur footprints in the De Lucia quarry, where no diggings had been carried out for some years. The footprints had been exposed by rainfall on the limestone surface, which is part of the Altamura Limestone Range; they are spread over an area of about 12,000 square metres, which is the largest of its kind in Europe and probably in the world. At least 4,000 footprints could be identified ranging from 5-6 to 40-45 cm in size; they belong to at least 200 individuals from 5 dinosaur species of the late Cretaceous: the long-necked herbivorous Sauropods, horned Ceratopsids, Iguanodonts and Achilosaurs, and Teropods - a carnivorous species. The footprints were left on mud soil in a swamp area; they are so excellently preserved that one can still observe the folds on the animals' skin. The footprints belong to both the front and the rear legs and are located along trackways that overlap in some points. Their presence is especially important also in order to outline the geological history of this area, where it was believed no land had emerged about 70,000 years ago - i.e. at the time when the dinosaur species in question were thriving.

In October 1993, a group of spelaeologists exploring the Lamalunga cave - one of the numerous karstic caves in the region - run into the complete skeleton of a prehistoric man dating back to about 130,000 years ago. The man had remained trapped in the cave, which is part of the Altamura Murge area and is currently one of its most significant elements. It is made up of several galleries extended non far beneath the limestone surface, which is crossed by vertical pits.

At a given stage in the long history of the cave - it is difficult to say precisely when - the palaeontological findings were deposited and subsequently dispersed on account of the periodical inflow of water; later on, the findings were covered by concretions. The main gallery in the cave, which is currently inactive and suspended on the bottom of the valley, can be accessed via a vertical pit, at whose base collapsed stones and an imposing deposit conoid can be found. On the soil there are spread mostly complete bones of animals, which show higher concentrations in some areas; they belong to hyenas, deers, fallow deers, and horses and are covered by a thin calcareous sheet as well as, in some cases, by "coral shaped" concretions. The same concretions, producing a major visual impact, cover the remains of the human skeleton located in the area called "the Man's Apse". Some of the bones, in particular the overturned skull, were moved about by the inflow of water that in the past was present in the cave. They are of outstanding interest for human palaeontological studies, as they provide a unique opportunity for studying a complete skeleton that appears to be especially well preserved also in its most fragile anatomic parts -such as the internal walls of the orbits-. The decision not to remove the skeleton from this site -the skeleton being cemented to calcareous rock- has increased the difficulties and time required for an in-depth study; still, image analysis allowed attributing it to an archaic Homo sapiens showing some features that will be typical of Neandertalians.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Palaeontological remains are protected pursuant to the national safeguarding measures (legislative decree no. 42/2004, containing the "Code on Cultural Heritage and Landscape" - Title I, Section 10).

The footprints left by dinosaurs in the De Lucia quarry, which can already be visited by the public, are expected to be shortly included in an ad-hoc archaeological park.

To ensure preservation, the palaeontological remains within the Lamalunga Cave may not be visited on site, however they can be viewed by scholars and visitors by means of a complex CCTV system as well as via monitors located in the State Archaeological Museum of Altamura and the Ragone Masseria in the Lamalunga village.

Comparison with other similar properties

Dinosaur footprints have been discovered in various places in Italy (Liguria, Veneto, Tuscany, Campania, Sardinia). For instance, at the ichnological site of Lavini di Marco (Rovereto, Trento region), footprints and trackways related to over 200 dinosaurs from the Jurassic period (Lias period, about 200 millions years ago) have been detected. However, the De Lucia Cave, with its thousands of footprints, is really an outstanding, unique site.

The Lamalunga Cave, with its peculiarities due to the presence of "coral shaped" concretions and its exceptional palaeontological remains, is unequalled. Also the skeleton of the Altamura Man is unique on account of its integrity.