Cristiano Dal Sasso - Museum of Natural History

Walking through the public gardens named after Montanelli, inside the so-called “Garden of Sciences” we meet an impressive Nineteenth Century building overlooking Corso Venezia. This is the oldest civic museum in Milan, the Museum of Natural History, opened for the first time to the public in 1844.  

Cristiano Dal Sasso - Museum of Natural History

The rooms dedicated to fossils, palaeontology, zoology, minerals, and the elaborate dioramas among the most beautiful in Europe and possibly of the world. However, the area accessible to the public is only small and a few people know of the treasure that the basements protect. The number of fossils alone counts 40,000 specimens, meticulously catalogued and collected in long corridors. For twenty-five years Cristiano, a vertebrate palaeontologist, has been walking along these corridors handling the remains of animals that lived millions of years ago with care. His passion for life on earth before the appearance of man is deeply rooted.

“My father comes from the Asiago plateau, where there are quarries for the extraction of a reddish limestone that was a seabed in the Jurassic age. I used to go there on vacation every summer and sometimes I came across traces of a past life: when I picked up from the ground an ichthyosaur tooth, I imagined it as part of a living body, I imagined what it could have chewed or bitten and right then, I broke the barrier of time just with a simple physical contact.”

Since starting working for the museum in 1991, Cristiano has made many studies collaborating even with international teams; so many discoveries have been made in the laboratories of this historic building, some of which have toured the world, on the covers of Nature and National Geographic. Discoveries that have rewritten entire chapters of palaeontology, one for all: in one of the rooms of the museum, it is possible to admire a faithful reproduction of Ciro.

“The first dinosaur found in Italy, a resounding and important discovery that has rewritten our prehistory. Ciro (Scipionyx samniticus) is the world's only dinosaur that still has its internal organs and on which we have performed a real paleo-autopsy.” 

Many believe that a palaeontologist lives the life of Indiana Jones; actually, the job is not as adventurous as it seems, often the discovery takes place gradually and it takes a lot of patience. Besanosauros is among the fossils on display in the museum.  

“A female ichthyosaur almost six meters long that still preserves the unborn embryos in the womb, a unique specimen that we extracted from the rock after around 16,500 hours of work.” 

Forty thousand fossil specimens, fragments of living beings, animal species that no longer exist are an incredible asset for Milan. The museums and those people who, like Cristiano, have devoted, with passion, their lives to science have a fundamental popularising role. 

"The sixth extinction, the one we are experiencing almost without realising it, is undermining biodiversity, today almost a hundred species of animals and plants disappear every day. Genetic diversity is a real natural lifesaver in times of great global crisis, it allows that some species survive and others do not. We study the great mass extinctions of the past to try to avoid them in the future. Museums are there to remind the visitor on how broad and important is the biodiversity of the past and present and to educate people to respect all forms of life.”

 

People in Milano is the story of small and large urban cultural ferment realities through the direct experience of the individual players, people who are became part of this by transforming their experience into a small piece of human heritage shared by everyone. People in Milano is a project by Elce, Valentina Di Francesco and Stefano Frattini.

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