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The Dolomites - origin

The history and origin of the Dolomites in a nutshell

It is difficult to imagine that herbivorous dinosaurs of up to three meters in size cavorted around 280 million years ago before their habitat was swallowed up by the sea - which took a total of 200 million years, mind you, where today there are colourful meadows and proud mountaintops that invite you to go hiking, biking or skiing.

280 million years ago: a difficult birth
About 280 million years ago, in the area of the western Dolomites, the earth began to crumble. Cracks formed in the hard crust and masses of lava emerged from the deep clefts, giving origin to one of the largest volcanic areas in Europe. Herbivorous Pareiasauri roamed the vast plains; among the first large reptiles, they could be even three metres long. 

255 million years ago: The domain of the sea
Towards the end of the Permian, the sea was the absolute ruler in the area of today’s Dolomites. That lasted for more than 200 million years.

251 million years ago: the greatest climate catastrophe of all time
Between the Permian and the Triassic, the animal and plant world experienced one of its most serious crises. More than 90 % of life forms were affected and became extinct. We can only guess at the causes: some suggest the fall of a meteorite, others powerful volcanic eruptions that caused strong cooling and consequently adverse living conditions. This mass extinction did not affect all living creatures to the same extent. Some groups disappeared forever, while others took advantage of niches that had become free. The winners of this crisis still represent life on earth today. 

241 million years ago: the beginning of a new world
Life began to change completely. In rapid succession, new plants and new animals were modified, separated and formed new species and new genera. The supercontinent of Pangea began to break up. 

235 million years ago: a fall to a great depth
The Dolomite region sank even deeper. In parts, 1000 metres and more. In a race against time, the corals had to build their barriers higher and higher. A large part of the most imposing mountain ranges in the Dolomites - such as the Catinaccio, the Sciliar, the Latemar, the Pale di San Martino or the Marmolada – are no more than enormous fossilised barriers. 

228 million years ago: powerful volcanic eruptions
The next catastrophe was on the doorstep: in the area of the Siusi Alps, from Predazzo and Buffaure an enormous quantity of volcanic material was thrust to the surface. In the same way, masses of lava flowed over the sea bed, seeping out of numerous points under the sea. Lava flows and deposits of tuff filled the depressions between the barriers, covering the coral reefs and killing all forms of life. 

220 million years ago: tide levels without frontiers
Enormous surfaces with a reduced water covering began to develop, forcing the sea to move farther back and resulting in the appearance of large surfaces of land. Very fine layers of mud were thus formed. The Dolomia Principale formation produced some of the most imposing mountains in the Dolomites, including the Three Peaks of Lavaredo, the Cristallo and the Tofana. 

170 million years ago: the domain of the giant Ammonites
The tropical platform sank again by several hundred metres. Red limestone, full of ammonites, belemnites and striking nodules of brown and black iron and manganese, has been preserved to the present day. 

65 million years ago: The next great extinction
But despite this the ammonites became extinct. And with them, the dinosaurs. Was it the stress of continuous development that caused them to surrender or did the powerful impact of a meteorite bring their life to an end?

30 million years ago: the sea for the last time
The African continent slowly began to shift northward, closer to Europe. Great masses of rock were pushed one on top of the other and, we might say, folded. The building of the Alps had begun. 

20 million years ago: A unique landscape in the world began to form
The first rivers fought their way through, forming their beds and then the first valleys. Sinuous rounded peaks thus appeared. The old sedimentations, transformed into rocks and compressed, folded and pushed one on top of the other by mighty forces, again saw the light. Rocks that resisted the atmospheric agents, like the old barriers and carbonate platforms, reached towards the sky in the form of steep peaks. 

The last 5 million years: Ice ages
The power of ice and water left its mark on the sedimentations of the previous epochs. This marked the beginning of the Ice Age. The glaciers covered the land, moulding the valleys. The Dolomites sank below a blanket of ice 2 km thick. Only the tallest peaks emerged from this frozen sea. With gigantic strength the glaciers hewed the rock, leaving their traces: U-shaped valleys, moraine, smoothed surfaces. 

The modern age
The mountains folded imperceptibly and the layers were deformed, moved by impetuous forces. Things developed and disappeared alternately. Today you can walk around the old coral barrier reefs with your feet dry. Fossilised volcanic stacks stand out against the sky like a snapshot. Memories of ancient seas come to light in extraordinary circumstances.

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