primo lupo d’Europa

Fossil of Europe's first wolf found in Rome

The enigmatic fossil found near Ponte Galeria (Rome) was analysed by a team of palaeontologists and geologists from Sapienza University of Rome and the University of Milan. 3D reconstruction of the remains identified the fossil as the oldest adult wolf (Canis lupus) in Europe, dating back some 400,000 years. The study results, which shed new light on the dynamics of the wolf's spread across our continent, have been published on Scientific Reports

The wolf is one of the most emblematic species of European biodiversity, an animal that symbolises our continent's forests and is so ingrained in our imagination that it has become part of the culture, folklore and tradition of all European peoples. Although humans have coexisted with the wolf for thousands of years, the evolutionary history of this iconic predator is still debated in the scientific community, especially on when this animal became widespread on our continent.

A team of palaeontologists and geologists from the Department of Earth Sciences of Sapienza University of Rome and the Department of Earth Sciences 'Ardito Desio' of the University of Milan examined an enigmatic fossil skull of a large canid found near Rome, more precisely at Ponte Galeria. 3D scanning of the fragmentary remains identified the fossil skull as the oldest adult wolf (Canis lupus), dating back some 400,000 years (Middle Pleistocene). The study results were published in Scientific Reports, an international scientific journal of the Nature group.

"In particular, the fossil fragments were examined by CT scan and then digitally joined to recreate the original skull structure, which was then analysed, measured and compared with other scans of modern canids such as the jackal, or the Apennine wolf that currently populates the Italian peninsula", says Dawid A. Iurino, first and corresponding author of the study.

As the Ponte Galeria area is rich in deposits of different dates, the research team analysed the volcanic sediment that covered and filled the fossil fragments to establish the precise age of the find.

"Before this research, the oldest fossil remains of wolves were those dated to around 300,000 years old found in France (Lunel-Viel) and Italy (Polledrara di Cecanibbio, of which, however, a formal description of the find is lacking)," comments Raffaele Sardella, who led the research team. "This new study has therefore allowed us to identify the Ponte Galeria wolf as the oldest fossilised remnant of this species found so far in Europe."

The new analyses shows that wolf dispersal occurred during the 'Mid-Brunhes Event', a Pleistocene phase when interglacial cycles became longer and more intense. This climate change had a strong impact on terrestrial ecosystems and probably favoured the spread of new species in Europe, including the wolf.




A Middle Pleistocene wolf from central Italy provides insights on the first occurrence of Canis lupus in Europe - Dawid A. Iurino, Beniamino Mecozzi, Alessio Iannucci, Alfio Moscarella, Flavia Strani, Fabio Bona, Mario Gaeta & Raffaele Sardella - Scientific Reports


Further Information 

Raffaele Sardella
Department of Earth Sciences




Friday, 25 February 2022

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