Since the establishment of astrochronology, calcareous rhythmites are frequently used as the basis of high-resolution chronostratigraphy. In particular for the Neogene, calcareous rhythmites serve as stratotypes and for absolute dating of stratigraphic boundaries (GSSPs). However, the exact mechanisms responsible for the formation of the rhythmic intercalation of lithologies in such successions are complex and not easily reconstructed. To a large extent this is the effect of diagenetic modifications of the original sediment. The two examples presented here are the GSSP location of the Serravallian-Tortonian boundary, and the second is an auxiliary stratotype for the same boundary (the Monte dei Corvi section and the Monte Gibliscemi section). During the past years, astrochronologic approaches were applied to these successions to considerably increase time-resolution compared to the elaborated biostratigraphic database.
The present study focuses on micropetrographic, trace element, and clay mineralogical methods in order to gain a better understanding of the genesis of the rhythmites. In the Monte Gibliscemi section, sediment parameters that are robust against diagenetic change clearly reflect primary differences, i.e. cyclic environmental changes. In contrast, no clear primary signal is determined for the Monte dei Corvi section on a couplet scale, leaving the origin of the rhythm ambiguous. This impedes the interpretation of the latter and the comparability between the two successions, and also compromises any bed-by-bed correlation between the two. The unclear origin of the rhythmites of Monte dei Corvi introduces uncertainty into the applicability of astrochronology to this succession.