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The first finding of doum palm remain in Europe

In the Roman harbour of Naples, the evidence of trade with northern Africa

The northernmost habitat of the Doum Palm in Evrona, Israel (Photo courtesy by Ester Inbar -
In the Greek-Roman harbour of Naples, our team found doum palm (Hyphaene thebaica (L.) Mart.) among the remains dated to the 1st century BC. Doum palm is native to northern and north-eastern Africa from Egypt to Somalia and, although Hyphaene has several archaeobotanical records from the Palaeolithic in Egypt, its fruits had never been found outside the African continent.

In its area of origin, it seems that H. thebaica was not an attractive food for the Romans, rather, its value for the Romans could be related to the hard endocarp of this palm yielding quite a valuable vegetable ivory, which is confirmed in classical literary sources by Theophrastus which reported the ornamental use of doum palm endocarps. The single mesocarp found does not permit to speculate about the putative reason for it being in Naples harbour, but confirms that there was active trade with north-eastern Africa in the 1st century BC.


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