Mondeval and surroundings: A natural and cultural spectacle worth of protection

By Antonio Guerreschi and Federica Fontana

In the past 20 years, research activities in the area of Mondeval de Sora (San Vito di Cadore, Belluno) have brought to light testimonies of priceless value. Among these, the findings originating from the site VF1 (Val Fiorentina 1) – a large boulder in the centre of the mountain basin – stand out. Due to excavations coordinated by the University of Ferrara, these discoveries testify many years of settlement from the last days of the Mesolithic period to antiquity. And it was at this site that one of the most spectacular archaeological findings of the Dolomites , or rather of the entire Alpine region, was discovered: the gravesite of a Mesolithic warrior who lived around 7.500 years ago and who was buried with a wealth of personal objects.

These testimonies, in combination with further archaeological findings in the area between the Passo Giau and Malga Prendera, constitute an invaluable cultural heritage which allows us to reconstruct the first periods of settlement and land-use in this part of the Alps. Due to its exceptionally rich and well-preserved findings, the Mondeval basin occupies a special position among the various areas in the Alpine arc, mostly situated at great heights, which provide evidence of human settlements after the last ice age.

Therefore, the conservation of Mondeval and surroundings is not “simply” about preserving an isolated area from a particular intrusion – as is the case with most archaeological sites in areas already heavily altered by human settlement. In Mondeval, an entire landscape needs to be preserved. It is one of the rare situations in the Italian peninsula with a “cultural” and “natural” environment largely untouched after many years; the same landscape which bore witness to the first humans settlements in the Alps over 10.000 years ago; and consequently a valuable treasure not only for the residents of these valleys, but also for all those who “enjoy” extraordinary and intact situations, going back to their roots.




The project liaison between Val Boite and Val Fiorentina runs through the system n. 1 Pelmo-Croda Da Lago of the BENE UNESCO DOLOMITI (DOLOMITES UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE). The Dolomites were entered in the World Heritage List serial port as well natural landscape according to the aesthetic and the geological-geomorphological criteria.These two criteria are here so intimately linked as to be difficult to separate and only if considered together help to define the uniqueness of a global good. Therefore we can immediately say that the Dolomitic Area has been recognized as a global icon of geo-diversity. This term, new to our ears but increasingly popular worldwide as an added value of an area (including for promotional-tour), is the link between people, landscape and culture: the variety of geological areas of the components of the phenomena and processes establishing them and that is explicit in a variety of rock types, minerals, fossils, soils that provide the frame of life on earth (Stanley 2001).

As part  of B.U.D the System Pelmo-Croda Da Lago has its specificity due to morphological, geological characteristics but even to the perception of natural and cultural landscapes as stated in the words by Cesare Lasen and prof. Guerreschi. Specific features that make the defined, readily identifiable, compared to the other 8 systems that make up the BENE and therefore GEO-BIODIVERSITY globally unique and inimitable.

Lengthened in the direction North-South from the Passo Giau to Monte Penna, this area is a treasure chest that contains very different jewels: from the powerful carbonate massifs of  Monte Cernèra, of The Lastòi, Croda Da Lago, of Monte Pelmo and Monte Penna with rocky walls, towering peaks, sharp ridges, pinnacles and high lunar plans to the softer, enigmatic and green landscapes of Mondeval De Sora and Mondeval De Sote, of the Corno Alto up to the Col De La Puìna set on dark volcanic rock. An amazing morphological diversity that reflects the amazing geological history of these mountains and the events that shaped them.

This territory, in fact, although it is crossed by major tectonic lines (line Selva-Antelao passing right next to the path of the project) shows a succession of layers virtually undisturbed and incredibly continue still more than 2,500 meters thick. Starting from gypseous/gypsyferous and anhydritic rocks of the Higher/Superior Permian (260 million years ago- Cernèra Basso)up to the powerful counters of the Lower Jurassic (185 million years ago Pelmo top area), the system offers the world a three dimensional novel describing almost 100 million years of history with unusual richness in details.

The complex and rich in fossil varicoloured rocky succession (from the Fm of Werfen to the Fm of Contrin) outcropping at the bottom of Monte Cernera, for example, is a global reference to the Anisic  stratigraphy (245-237 million years ago) fundamental step to understand the complex responses of terrigenous systems to changes in sea level.

The grey white masses of dolomia (Sciliar formation) of the middle and summit of the mountain, however, represent a small “tropical fossil atoll“ perfectly preserved, built by the incessant labour of sponges, algae, corals (bio-builder organisms.

Moving from M. Cernèra we can see in an incomparable way how 232 million years ago, in Ladino, this idyllic landscape was radically transformed by a sudden and catastrophic event: in the area  of the present Predazzo Monzoni and of Cima Pape, two active volcanoes erupted enormous amounts of material polluting the clear waters of the tropical sea favouring the death of building organisms.

This dramatic moment in the history of dolomite can be seen in exemplary fashion both from the dark basalt rocks that rest on the Forcella Giau side (in on lap) on the white submarine paleo-eastern slope of Mount Cernèra, and from the powerful succession of volcanic rocks of Corvo Alto of Mondeval De Sora and De Sote up to the Col De La Puìna.

But there’s more! The massive and laminated grey-orange dolomia (Dolomia Cassiana) of the Lastòi De Formìn, of the Rocchette and of Monte Pena and the yellow fossilliferous thin layers that appear on their slopes (San Cassiano Fm) tell, in an exceptional way, how the bio-builder organisms at the end of the volcanic event took overwhelmingly to build a second generation of cliffs.

As if by magic the original architecture of both pre- and post-volcanic atolls, have come down to us perfectly  preserved, by offering  an incredible opportunity to experience, physically, the geography of those ancient seas and islands: the Cernèra, the Lastòi, the Rocchette and the Pena still stand  several hundred meters from the pastures, as they did at one time from the depths of ancient tropical seas.

Finally the walls of thickly layered light dolomia of Monte Pelmo and of Croda Da Lago (Main Dolomia) megalodonti rich indicate a dolomitic area with a more homogeneous  geography: a large and flat lagoon, similar to the tropic lagoon in the Bahamas, where the first dinosaurs walked.

Some of the most important fossil localities of the Dolomites and the world are kept in these mountains: to be mentioned  as an example, the dinosaur footprints found on Pelmetto and Lastòi , and the very ancient ambers of Monte Penna.

Under the geo-morphological point of view, beyond the extraordinary structural morphologies that depend on the selective agents of erosion on different understatement, should be mentioned the splendid examples of glacial gravity and torrential. In particular the area of Mondeval De Sora and De Sote is characterized by numerous late glacial moraine banks with beautiful specimens of boulders (burial Mondeval) and most widespread forms of geliflux (rockglacier, nivomoraine, lobes).This is useful paleoclimatic indicators, which increase the data relating to climate change studies in general (area of study now regarded as strategic by many developed countries).

The geological structure is very complex and fragile (as already stated by Cesare Lasen) because it reflects the complexity buoyancy litho-stratigraphic which sees the constant changes of karst and porous aquifers (carbonate rocks) and of  other Arenac and more clay waterproof.

Widespread are phenomena of landslide: collapses and landslides along the walls fractures prevail on carbonate walls (limestone and dolomite), producing block sizes also gigantic. With the exception of large paleo-landslides of Pelmo (rock avalanche of Mareson and Palafavèra), these phenomena do not imply, almost never, large volumes of material as well as very fast and therefore difficult to predict.

Conversely, where a ductile behaviour lithologies (clay-basinal sandstone, thinly laminated ), as in the area at the foot of Rocchette on which party should set up systems, the failures are for sliding rotational and/or percolation: this is a type of landslides in developments affecting the slower but more extensive areal therefore more difficult to mitigate them.

Although in this brief summary many details have been omitted, it shows the significant geo-diversity of this area. This is why many scholars, researchers and enthusiasts choose it for a long time as an ideal open-air laboratory to learn how to read the History of the Earth and the phenomena that contribute to change it.

No coincidence that Unesco judged this area as worthy of being included  in the World Heritage List.

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