Monte Bolca: An Eocene Fishbowl
Carol M. Tang
FOR FOUR CENTURIES, NOBLEMEN, CARDINALS, AND EVEN emperors are said to have coveted the fossil fish from the Pesciara (Italian for “fishbowl”) of Monte Bolca in northern Italy. This nickname is based on the extraordinarily preserved fish of Eocene age that have been excavated since the sixteenth century, but the deposit also contains well-preserved remains of reptiles, crustaceans, molluscs, plants, cephalopods, and jellyfish. More than 500 species of terrestrial and marine vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants are represented in this Lagerstätte, including 90 families of fish alone. The first printed monograph on paleoichthyology, Giovanni Serafino Volta's l'Ittiolitologia veronese (1796–1808), and some of Louis Agassiz's pioneering work on comparative zoology were based largely on fossils from Monte Bolca. The diversity, abundance, and excellent preservation of these fossils have greatly influenced systematic, paleoecologic, and evolutionary studies in ichthyology. But much less work has been conducted on the other fossils or on the geologic, paleoenvironmental, and taphonomic aspects of the Monte Bolca Lagerstätte, and unlike that for the fish specimens, which have been widely disseminated in museums around the world, most of the information we do have about this deposit is not widely known.
There is a very rich history on the collection and study of Monte Bolca fossils (Gaudant 1997). Accounts of the extraordinary fish from Bolca go back to the mid-sixteenth century. The first written description of Monte Bolca fossil material came from Andrea Mattioli, a doctor from Siena, who in his 1555 book reported seeing “some slabs of stone which,