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A new archaeobotanical study of Italian Roman ports

In Roman times the Tyrrhenian coast was characterized by a deciduous forest and wood for shipbuilding was of local provenance


In a study published in Review of Palinology and Palaeobotany, our team, in collaboration with other archaeobotanists, analyze pollen, plant macrofossils and wood constituting shipwrecks, from the ancient Roman ports of Pisae, Portus, and Neapolis. The archaeobotanical analyses reveal important information about the forest landscape and timber use in Roman times.

The landscape of the Italian coasts between Pisa and Naples was formed by deciduous oak plain forest and  the Mediterranean vegetation was not widespread as at present day: macchia was limited to small areas along the coast. Therefore the forest landscape was not so degraded by human impact, whereas only relicts of this plain forest are currently present and preserved in some protected areas, like in Parco Nazionale del Circeo, south of Rome, and along the coast of the Pisan plain, in the Migliarino San Rossore Regional Park. Mountain elements, such as beech (Fagus sylvatica) and silver fir (Abies alba), were also present and thus they occupied wider areas at lower altitudes than the current ones.

The analysis of the wood constituting shipwrecks reveal also information about the ancient Roman shipbuilding and the use of timber. The boats were prevailingly built with local timber, such as evergreen and deciduous oak, ash (Fraxinus sp.), elm (Ulmus sp.), alder (Alnus sp.) and walnut (Juglans regia), often with conifers, such as Mediterranean cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) and pine (Pinus sp.); silver fir was also used, suggesting the preference of shipbuilders for this timber and thus a co-determining factor in the decrease of fir in the coastal landscape.

 

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