Georgofili World

Newsletter of the Georgofili Academy

The landscape of Pompeii and the Vesuvius area during the Roman age

The great Vesuvian eruption in 79. C. resulted in the preservation until today of one of the largest archaeological World Heritage Sites. Few people know that even what can be termed as the largest archive of botanical and agronomic materials of classical antiquity has been preserved in this area. The progression of research today allows these plant remains to be analyzed using different methods, which are based on the botanical identification of materials, both charred and uncharred, that were buried by the eruption.
Curiously, despite its especially widespread use in Herculaneum, archaeological wood has never received much attention from specialists, despite the fact that it was a kind of relic completely and clearly visible to anyone. The systematic analysis of both charred and uncharred archaeological wood now permits a first hypothetical reconstruction of the forest landscape in the Vesuvius area two thousand years ago. Data analysis suggests the presence of a forest cover very different from the current one, in which silver fir (Abies alba) and cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) were present at a low altitude. White pine was the main species used in construction in Herculaneum. This totally unexpected evidence led, among other things, to redefining this tree’s habitat. The cypress is the second species found in Herculaneum, suggesting that this tree grew spontaneously in the Campania forests. Instead, the data regarding chestnut (Castanea sativa) showed that this tree was used in the Vesuvius area for its wood and not for chestnut production.
Finally, with regard to the herbaceous crop landscape, it is worth reporting the pollen data related to the Roman port of Naples, documenting the likely cultivation of broccoli (Brassicaceae) between Naples and Vesuvius already in that era.