In the beginning was the sea.
Between 245 and 230 million years ago, during the geological period called the Middle Triassic, Monte San Giorgio was situated at the edge of a vast ocean, which spread over an area of perhaps a thousand km between “Milan” and “Basel” and towards the East to present-day South China.
This sea, called the Tethys Sea, divided the African continent to the South and the Eurasian continent to the North. To be more precise the history of Monte San Giorgio developed in limited marine coastal surroundings during the Middle Triassic period on the North edge of a part of the African continent, featuring small islands and banks of fine sand, almost as if it were a lagoon, more or less separated from the open sea. In these particular conditions with shallow water in a subtropical climate a complex, diversified marine fauna adapted; it had found ideal living conditions in that part of the sea for its rapid evolution over a period of more than 10 million years, as well as excellent premises for its conservation, once dead, on the bed of the lagoon, giving origin to one of the most exceptional fossil deposits in the world.
The forms of terrestrial life are rare but very important, confirming the presence of lands which emerged not far away.
So we are dealing with a fascinating chapter in the Great Book of the Earth’s History with pages written in stone, crucial for the evolution of marine organisms, especially of fish and reptiles during the Middle Triassic period.
The rocky layers brought to light from 1850 onwards, first thanks to industrial quarries then to scientific research, testify not only to these exceptional conditions of life but also to the extraordinary level of conservation which have enabled tens of thousands of fossils to be discovered today; these can be attributed to about eighty species of fish, about thirty species of reptiles and numerous invertebrates and the remains of plants, subdivided into at least six distinct fossil levels illustrating just as many moments of evolution. These fossils are very well preserved and also spectacular and rare, if not in fact unique in the world.
UNESCO recognised this exceptional, universal value inscribing the Swiss side of Monte San Giorgio on the World Heritage List in 2003, while the Italian part was recognised in 2010.
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