Dal Piaz, Giorgio

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(b. Feltre, Italy, 29 March 1872; d. Padua, Italy, 20 April 1962)

geology, paleontology.

Dal Piaz was the son of Basilio Dal Piaz and Corona d’Alberto. His father’s brother Clemente, recognizing his nephew’s intelligence, helped to finance his secondary education. Dal Piaz took his degree in pharmacy at the University of Padua in 1896.

An interest in geology, awakened by his love for the mountains surrounding his native town. led Dal Piaz to frequent the laboratory of Giovanni Omboni, professor of geology at Padua University. He graduated in natural sciences at Padua in 1898 and soon became Omboni’s assistant. He married Francesca (Fanny) Pontil; they had two children.

Dal Piaz’s first scientific contributions concerned glacial deposits in the province of Belluno. of which Feltre is part (1895), and the geology and petrography of the Euganean Hills, a group of magmatic origin near Padua (1896. 1897).

The deep interest of Dal Piaz in paleontology and stratigraphy, accompanied by his detailed investigations in the field, soon made him a leader in Jurassic stratigraphy of Venetia and Trentino-Alto Adige. In 1907 he published “Le Alpi feltrine,” a fundamental stratigraphic work based on a rich fossil fauna of ammonites; in later publications he clarified many regional stratigraphic problems, among them heteropic facies.

Dal Piaz patiently recovered fossil bones by the hundreds, mostly of cetaceans, from the hard sandstone near Belluno, which was quarried for grinding wheels and hones; his careful study of them was a masterly contribution to odontocete (dolphin) paleontology. His last work on the subject was published posthumously. In 1908 Dal Piaz succeeded Omboni as professor of geology at Padua and as director of the Geological Institute. He greatly improved the library and the paleontological museum, which moved to a new headquarters in 1932.

Dal Piaz made a major contribution to the structural study of the Alps in 1912 by extending the new tectonic theories to the southern Alps. This work interpreted the Alpine chain as a huge structure of superimposed folds and overthrusts, and demonstrated that the faults are minor elements in a sequence of folds, arranged parallel to the chain and leaning toward the Venetian plain and the Adriatic basin. It was published in the first volume of the Memorie dell’Istituto geologico della R. università di Padova (now Memorie di scienze geologiche), founded by Dal Piaz with a large personal financial investment and directed by him for many years.

Other main contributions by Dal Piaz are the proof of the existence of Pliocene marine deposits in Venetia (1912); of Paleolithic man (1922); of Tertiary tonalites along the Alpine-Dinaric tectonic boundary, as it was then called (1926); and of preWürmian glacial moraines in the same area (1946, 1949). In 1922, for the seventh centenary of the University of Padua, Dal Piaz wrote a masterpiece on the development of geologic ideas in Italy since the Middle Ages.

The main scientific enterprise of Dal Piaz was the organization of the geologic mapping of northeastern Italy (the present political subdivisions Trentino-Alto Adige, Venetia, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia) on the scale 1:100, 000. Started in 1923, it was completed in 1962. The last (forty-second) sheet was published just after Dal Piaz died, but he saw the printer’s proofs. In this work he collaborated with many scientists; for instance, on the crystalline formations he had the cooperation of Angelo Bianchi, professor of mineralogy at Padua University. Thenew survey spurred much scientific research and increased knowledge of regional and applied geology (especially hydrogeology).

Dal Piaz dealt with problems of engineering geology in dam construction and ship canal excavation. of petroleum geology (Albania, Italy), of water supply (Istria, Venetia), and of thermal springs, particularly around the Euganean Hills. In the latter he demonstrated the subvolcanic. laccolithic nature of trachytic bodies (1935–1953).

Dal Piaz taught until 1942, and in 1943 he became professor emeritus. Many scientists were his pupils and followed his prejudice-free method of research. He was succeeded in the chair of geology and the direction of the Geological Institute at Padua by his son Giambattista, formerly professor of geology at Turin (who was in turn succeeded in Padua by his son Giorgio).

Dal Piaz was a member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Accademia Nazionale dei XL. and various regional institutions. He was awarded the Royal Prize for Geology of the Accademia dei Lincei in 1916. was twice president of the Italian Geological Society, and represented Italy on the International Commission for a Stratigraphic Lexicon.

After retiring, Dal Piaz went daily to the Geological Institute at Padua. A few days after his ninetieth birthday, he died suddenly. Some of his unpublished manuscripts were printed by his followers after his death. The lyceum of Feltre is named for Dal Piaz, as are a shelter in the mountains he studied and a prize awarded by the Italian Geological Society, funding for which was raised through a subscription by his former students and admirers.


I. Original Works. Dal Piaz’s works number more than one hundred. Among the more important are “Note sull’epoca glaciale nel Bellunese.” in Atti della Società veneto-trentina di scienze naturali. 2nd ser. 2 (1895), 336–347: “Studi geologico-petrografici intorno ai Colli Euganei. I e II,” in Rivista di mineralogia a cristallografia italiana, 16 (1896), 49–69, and 17 (1897) 74–80; “Le Alpi feltrine,” in Memorie del R. istituto veneto di scienze, lettere ed arti, 27 (1907), I-176: “Studi geotettonici sulle Alpi orientali…” in Memorie dell’Istituto geologico della R. università di Padova, 1 (1912), 1–195; “Sull’esistenza del Pliocene marino nel Veneto,” in Atti dell’Accudemia scientifica veneto-trentino-istriana, 5 (1912), 212–215; “L’università di Padova e la scuola veneta nello sviluppo e nel progresso delle scienze geologiche,” in Memorie dell’ Istituto geologico della R. universita di Padova, 6 (1922) 1–41; “II confine alpino-dinarico dall”Adamello al massiccio di Monte Croce nell’Alto Adige,’ in Atti dell’ Accademia scientifica veneto-trentinoistriana, 3rd series. 17 (1926), 3–7; “Avanzi morenici prewürmiani allo sbocco della valle del Brenta….” in Acta della Pontificia accademia delle scienze, 10 , no. 5 (1946), 155–166; and “Sui depositi morenici prewürmiani dei Colli Berici….” ibid., no. 29 (1949), 339–354.

II. Secondary Literature. Biographical articles on Dal Piaz include Angelo Bianchi. “Commemorazione del socio Giorgio Dal Piaz.” in Rendiconti dell’Accademia nazionale dei Lincei, 8th ser., 42 (1967), 112–123; Giuseppe Biasuz, “Ricordo del prof. Giorgio Dal Piaz,” in El Campanon, 1 (1972), 1–4; Piero Leonardi.’ Commemorazione del membra effettivo prof. Giorgio Dal Piaz,’ in Atti dell’ Istituto veneto di scienze, lettere ed arti, 121 (1963), 1–15; and Roberto Malaroda, “Giorgio Dal Piaz paleontologo (1872–1962,” in Bollettino della Società paleontologica italiana, 4 (1965), 3–8.

Giuliano Piccoli

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