The Messinian Vena del Gesso Basin in the Northern Apennines is filled by very thick (up to 35 m) beds of coarse crystalline gypsum (selenite) associated with thinner carbonate and shaly (euxinic) intercalations. The conventional Usiglio model of salt fractionation does not apply to this evaporitic sequence for the following reasons: carbonate which underlies gypsum is not evaporitic but algal in origin; most gypsum did not precipitate from surface brines but at and below a sediment-water interface occupied by algal mats; a significant portion (10–80%) of gypsum beds is composed of redeposited selenite which was removed from the margins and transported toward the centre of the basin by slope-controlled currents and gravity flows (debris flows).

We call this process cannibalistic because of its intraformational character (connected with evaporative fall of water level) and volumetric importance.

A recurrent vertical pattern of six main facies (euxinic to gypsum fanglo-merates) is interpreted as a bathymetric, regressive cycle controlled by both sedi-mentological and tectonic-eustatic factors. The inferred environmental setting is a residual turbidite trough (Marnoso-arenacea) evolving abruptly toward lagoonal conditions and filled up to sea level by evaporitic and mechanical (mostly fluvial) processes. Repeated inundations of restricted-marine water started the depositional cycle thirteen or fourteen times.