The role of the Mediterranean region in the development of sedimentary geology: a historical overview



The Mediterranean region, source of so much knowledge in the world, is the site of major advances in sedimentary geology. In addition to its economic and cultural richness, the geological and geographic diversity of the region, plus its active geological processes, have long stimulated indigenous scholars, along with attracting talented outsiders such as Steno, Lyell, Walther, Kuenen and Bagnold. Since classical Hellenic times, debates about the origin of fossils and the changing positions of sea-level served as catalysts for studies of sediments, sedimentary rocks and ancient life. The presence of geologically young and easily interpreted marine shell beds in many Mediterranean coastal areas adjacent to their modern analogues was a particular stimulus for progress in sedimentary geology, for example, the very advanced stratigraphic ideas of Leonardo da Vinci, expressed solely in his unpublished notebooks. Impeding progress was the geological complexity of facies, faunas and structure in the circum-Mediterranean Alpine belts. Once the secrets of these were unlocked, however, the Mediterranean region became the source of major discoveries about syn-sedimentary tectonics, carbonate platforms, pelagic and anoxic sediments, turbidites, evaporites, aeolian processes, cyclostratigraphy, magnetic stratigraphy and impact events. In many of these Mediterranean discoveries, the critical element is the occurrence of extensive Mesozoic-Cenozoic pelagic successions whose precise age dating was made possible by pioneering biostratgraphic studies using microfossils.