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Evidences of cypress cultivation in southern Italy

In Campania cypress groves were present during the Roman Age for timber production

The planking built with cypress timber of the ship B in the Roman harbour of Naples (Photo courtesy of Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli).
In Campania, many analyses carried out by our team on wooden artefacts revealed that cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) is among the most used timber during the Roman Age. The strong economic significance of this tree was already supposed by clear evidence of cypress cultivation in the eastern Vesuvian area, where several stumps, planted in a quincunx pattern, were found under the 79 AD eruption deposits. However, the reason for these groves was not at all obvious.

Recently, our team found cypress timber in three shipwrecks dated between the 1st and the 3rd centuries AD in the harbour of Naples; at Herculaneum, systematic analysis of the building lumber attested that cypress was the second most widely used tree for the rafters of the roofs; at Oplontis both in the Poppea’s villa and in the so called Villa B, cypress was widely used for poles. Evidently, Romans had a good knowledge of the technological properties of cypress timber; in particular, the growth form of cypress is straight and tall, so it was mainly use for making poles and planks. The evidences of cypress as a significant ship and house building material suggest therefore that cypress cultivation in the Roman Campania was exclusively for timber production.

 

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Related papers

Allevato, E., Russo Ermolli, E., Boetto, G., & Di Pasquale, G. (2010). Pollen-wood analysis at the Neapolis harbour site (1st–3rd century AD, southern Italy) and its archaeobotanical implications. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37(9), 2365–2375. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2010.04.010
Moser, D., Allevato, E., Clarke, J. R., Di Pasquale, G., & Nelle, O. (2013). Archaeobotany at Oplontis: woody remains from the Roman Villa of Poppaea (Naples, Italy). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 22(5), 397-408. doi:10.1007/s00334-012-0381-z