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ABSTRACT

The Cretaceous and Paleogene pelagic limestone and marl formations of the Umbria-Marche Apennines of north-central Italy have proven to be exceptional recorders of the history of Earth and of life on Earth, and they have been the subject of numerous geological and paleontological studies over the last several decades. Founded a quarter century ago, in 1992, the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco is a research and teaching center focused on these exceptional rocks. This chapter is a historical introduction that briefly reviews the highlights of the lithologic, biostratigraphic, sedimentologic, magnetostratigraphic, impact-stratigraphic, geochemical, geochronological, time-scale, and cyclostratigraphical research done on the Umbria-Marche stratigraphic sequence, much of it facilitated by the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco. This review covers work up to the Coldigioco 25th anniversary Penrose conference in September 2017; it does not treat work presented at that conference or done since then. A remarkable irony is that a century ago, the Umbria-Marche Cretaceous–Paleogene sequence was so difficult to date that early work contained an error of ~35 m.y., but now there is a reasonable hope that this entire section may eventually be dated to an accuracy and precision of ~10,000 yr. This review begins with an homage to the little medieval city of Gubbio, its wild Festa dei Ceri, and its Bottaccione Gorge, where much of the research described here has been done. The review ends with three points of perspective. The first is the notion that sometimes geology can be done by looking up at the sky, and astronomy can be done by looking down at Earth, with much of the Coldigioco-based research being of this latter kind. The second is the observation that geology and paleontology are contributing far more new information to Big History—to our integrated knowledge of the past—than any other historical field in the humanities or sciences. The third is that three of the major scientific revolutions of geology in the twentieth century have direct connections to the Umbria-Marche stratigraphic sequence—the turbidite revolution, the development of plate tectonics, and the downfall of strict uniformitarianism.

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