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Neoichnology

Research

Neoichnology is one of my main study interests. I focused on the Grado-Marano lagoon, one of the major transitional systems of the Northern Adriatic sea. Here, vast tidal flats are presenting a complex mosaic of sedimentary environments, which are offering varied habitats for the tracemaking organisms. For these reasons, the Grado-Marano lagoon represents an ideal site to understand the ichnology of temperate, peritidal environments.
A very specific habitat is constituted by microbial mats: multi-layered sheets of organisms invisible to the naked eye. Microbial mats are among the oldest clear signs of life; they were widespread, but around 540 millions of years ago, they disappeared from the soft floors of shallow seas. Nevertheless, in the Grado-Marano lagoon vast sections of the tidal-flat are colonized by microbial mats, which are presenting very peculiar burrows. This is just one of the reasons that make the Grado-Marano lagoon a 'lost world': it is a window into the remote past of the Earth's history!

Neoichnology of microbial mats. Figures from Baucon, A. 2008. Neoichnology of a microbial mat in a temperate, siliciclastic environment. In: Avanzini M., Petti F. Italian Ichnology, Studi Trent. Sci. Nat. Acta Geol., 83





I am also interested in the application of ichnology to archaeology.
Since its origins, Archaeology has evolved by interaction with other disciplines, and, in particular, the Earth Sciences have provided major tools for archaeological analysis. Among the branches of Earth Sciences, Ichnology represents a new, promising field for application in Archaeology. Here are some examples from a coauthored paper that I coordinated (Baucon et al., 2008):

  • Footprints can reveal behavioural information (speed, gait, etc.), data on the individuals (sex, age), identification of the faunal assemblages, palaeopathological issues, structure of the human groups, dynamics of ritual behaviours, land use and economical issues.
  • The mechanics of bioturbation are important to an understanding of the formation of particular archaeological sites.
  • The study of marine bioerosional ichnofabrics can answer many questions, such as: What was the mean sea level? How long did The transgressive event last? What were the periodical fluctuations of relative sea-level? Was it a restricted harbour or an open one?
  • Borings in bone substrates play an important role in permitting reconstruction animal-animal interactions (humans included).
  • The interpretation of trace-related symbols requires a certain degree of ichnological knowledge: for instance, trace fossils have been interpreted as manifestations of supernatural entities.
  • The analysis of wood-borings is not only important to correctly preserve the archaeological information, but it possibly provides precious palaeoenvironmental information as wood-borings are usually produced by environmentally-sensitive organisms.
  • Many ancient civilizations interpreted trace fossils as manifestations of supernatural entities. Conversely, there are several cases in which archaeologists have interpreted trace fossils as petroglyphs. Consequently, the interpretation of 'trace-related objects' requires a certain degree of ichnological knowledge.


Ichnoarcheology. Figure from: Baucon A., Privitera S., Morandi Bonacossi D., Canci A., Neto de Carvalho C., Kyriazi E., Laborel-Deguen F., Morhange C., Marriner N. 2008. Principles of Ichnoarchaeology: new frontiers for studying past times. In: Avanzini M., Petti F. Italian Ichnology, Studi Trent. Sci. Nat. Acta Geol., 83

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