Saturday, September 15, 2012

Apes in Tuscany

What does an ape have to do with Tuscany, you might ask. Not much, on the surface. But a recent story in the news about the discovery of this wonderful 'new' ape in the Congo, the Cercopithecus lomamiensis, prompts a look at some of Tuscany's recent and ancient local history.

If you drive to Radda along the valley road from Le Ripe, about halfway along you will see a sign indicating the 'Fonte di Selvolina' which is the spring of Selvolina, an ancient spring where locals would come to fill their bottles or barrels with good water and where travellers could refresh themselves and their beasts of burden. The spring today emerges in a rather battered stone trough right by the side of the road.

One day not so long ago, passersby were amazed to see a monkey perched on the trough. A small, thirsty monkey who had found a welcome place to have a drink. It was thought the monkey had escaped from some private zoo. I don't know whether the monkey was caught or whether it survived for a while in the Chianti hills, living off berries and grapes; certainly it has no natural predators in this area, if you don't count humans.

But the story does not finish there. It appears that in the ancient past, in prehistoric times, apes did roam through western Tuscany, when this land was a tropical island. The remains of a curious primate, the Oreopithecus Bambolii (named after Montebamboli, one of the sites where it was found) have led scientists to infer that this ape may have walked on two legs at times, and was capable of manual dexterity like humans. All of which is rather extraordinary and thought-provoking. 

For more information, have a look at these links.

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