In the late summer of 1860, Professor Giuseppe Ragazzoni (1824-1898), a prominent geologist from the Istituto Techniche di Brescia (Brescia Technical Institute), was collecting fossil shells from Pliocene deposits at the base of a low hill called Colle di Vento at Castenedolo, about 10 km south-east of Brescia. There, he found an anatomically modern human skull, supposedly in a formation dating from the Astian stage of the Middle Pliocene, about three to four million years old. It had coral cemented onto it with blue clay. Nearby, he found bones belonging to the thorax and limbs.
Like so many of these nineteenth-century discoveries, the exact circumstances of the find are unclear; the most likely explanation is that the skull belonged to a relatively recent (and probably post-glacial) burial cut through this deposit. The archaeological applications of stratigraphy were not understood at this time, so a geologist working on Pliocene deposits would naturally assume that all bones and fossils from this stratum were contemporary with its formation. Although the anatomist Giuseppe Sergi (1841-1936) visited the site in 1883 and was unable to identify a grave cut, a skeleton was found at the site in 1889, when Sergi was able to confirm that it did indeed lie in a grave. A radiocarbon date obtained on the ribs in 1969 confirmed the recent date of the skull, with a determination of 958±116 bp (847-1271 Cal AD; BM-496); the presence of a second skeleton in a grave makes it likely that Ragazzoni had unknowingly stumbled upon a forgotten medieval cemetery.
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