Dainelli, Giotto

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Dainelli, Giotto

(b. Florence, Italy, 19 May 1878; d. Florence, 16 December 1968)

geology, geography.

Dainelli acquired his passion for geology from the geologist Carlo De Stefani and his love of geography from the geographer Olinto Marinelli. He taught geography at the University of Pisa and geology at the universities of Naples and Florence. His personality as a scientist was characterized by the way in which the two fields blended in his mind. He wrote: “I believe that just as my training as a geologist was the solid foundation of my education as a geographer so my background in geography has perfected my vision of what the ultimate goal of geology should be: the reconstruction of conditions on earth as they were in former ages.” Thus, Dainelli’s interest in paleogeography was not accidental. Although much of his work was done in Italy, he was early attracted to foreign exploration, for which the robustness of his body and mind amply fitted him. A great part of his scientific contributions concerned central Asia and eastern Africa.

Of his works on Italy—apart from the geographic studies, among which Atlante fisico–economico d’Italia is outstanding—one must mention his paleontologic and tectonic studies of the Friulian Prealps (north of Venezia Giulia). Noteworthy, too, was his paleogeographic study of Italy during the Pliocene. Unfortunately that work, which he began and completed for Tuscany in collaboration with P. Videsott and A. Sestini, was later extended to cover only Campania and Apulia.

In 1913–1914 Dainelli took part in the De Filippi expedition to the western Himalayas and to the Karakoram Range. In 1930 he himself organized an expedition to the eastern karakoram. Besides his considerable anthropogeographic research, his contributions to geology were of major importance, encompassing terrain series and formations, problems of tectonics, and vast paleogeographic reconstructions. He also made a thorough study of the Ice Age in the same regions. The growth of the ancient ice sheets, which he saw as having occurred in four principal stages, impressed his as a marvel.

Dainelli’s work on eastern Africa began in 1905–1906, when, accompanied by Marinelli, he thoroughly explored the Ethiopian plateau and the northern Danakil. He established the fundamental features of the country’s geology, studied the volcanoes of the coastal region, and plumbed the geologic history of the Danakil depression. Returning to this field some thirty years later, he organized and led an expedition to Lake Tana (1937). On the basis of his own observations and his critical analysis of the findings of others, he constructed a vast synthesis of the geology of eastern Africa, ranging from stratigraphic and paleontologic observations to paleogeographic reconstructions.

Dainelli’s many books, especially the very popular scientific works, show him to have been not only a tireless worker but also a powerful and elegant writer.


I. Original Works. Among Dainelli’s books are Risultati scientific di un viaggio nella colonia Eritrea (Florence,1912), written with O. Marinelli; L’Eocene friulano (Florence,1915); La struttura delle prealpi friulane (Florence,1921);II mare pliocenico nella Toscana settentrionale (Florence,1930), written with P. Videsott; Atlante fisico–economico d’Italia(Milan,1940): and Geologia dell’ Africa orientale (Rome,1943). The following volumes, from the series Risultati Geologic e Geografici della Spedizione De Filippi nell’Himalàja e nel Caracorùm, were published in Bologna:I, Le esplorazioni(1934);II, La serie dei terreni(1934);III, Studi sul Glaciale(1922);IV, Le condizioni fisiche attuali, written with O. Marinelli(1928);VIII, Le condizioni delle genti(1924); IX, Le condizioni culturali (1925).

II. Secondary Literature. “Giotto Dainelli e la sua opera scientifica,” in Bollettino della società geografica italiana,7 (1954), includes an articles by E. Feruglio on Dainelli’s geological work and one by R. Riccardi on his geographical work, and a speech by Dainelli with autobiographical notes and a systematic bibliography of his writings up to April 1954, completed in 10 (1969). See also A. Sestini, “L’opera geografica di Giotto Dainelli,” in Rivista geografica italiana,76 (1969).

Francesco Rodolico