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Géoarchéologie littorale

Woodland exploitation and Roman shipbuilding

Preliminary data from the shipwreck Napoli C (Naples, Italy)Données préliminaires de l’épave C (Naples, Italie)
L’utilizzo delle risorse forestali nell’industria navale romana. Primi dati dal relitto Napoli C (Napoli, Italia)
Construction navale et ressources en bois
Emilia Allevato, Elda Russo Ermolli and Gaetano di Pasquale
p. 33-42


Several ancient wooden shipwrecks, harbours and submerged sites have frequently been found in the Mediterranean Sea, especially in France and, subordinately, in Italy. These discoveries are important in ancient maritime, economic and naval history studies as well as in vegetation history and biogeography. This work presents the results obtained from wood analysis of a ship for harbour service found in the sediments of the Neapolis harbour (southern Italy) dated to the boundary between the i and ii centuries AD. A multiproxy approach enabled correlation between timber taxa and pollen data, obtained from the coeval sedimentary layers, in order to constrain the ship provenance and the timber exploitation areas. Timber/pollen comparison suggests that, most probably, the timber used for ship building was of local origin. Moreover, even if a more accurate selection and a preference for softwood were adopted for planking elements, a good relationship was observed between technological properties and functional role of the wooden elements. Woodland exploitation seems to have been rationally carried out, with a good compromise between the quality of the ship, wood availability and the ease of supply. The supplying takes place not far from the shipyard, from tree growing as well as from wild forests. It is noteworthy to underline the hypothesis of Cupressus sempervirens and may be of Juglans regia tree plantation for timber production, the wider diffusion of Abies alba in the surroundings of Neapolis, with respect to the present, and a major diffusion of the Pinus nigra group in Campania.

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1Wood was the most valuable natural resource used by the people of ancient Mediterranean and it had so many uses that the Greek word for it means “material” or “matter” in general (Hughes, 1983). During the Roman age, wood was used for private and public buildings and structures, provided energy for cooking, heating, smelting, firing clay and fuel for the Roman baths (Ulrich, 2007). Although much of the subsistence of the Roman world depended on wood availability and forest exploitation, literature gives unclear ideas with regards to ancient knowledge on the technical characteristics and use of different types of trees and on the forest exploitation areas (Meiggs, 1982). The scattered archaeological recoveries of wooden artefacts (i.e. shipwrecks, furniture, timber roofs, etc.) have furthered understanding on several wood uses; among them, shipbuilding is considered, by some authors, to be the main cause of forest exploitation (Meiggs, 1982; Grove and Rackam, 2001) and reduction (Braudel, 1994; Quézel and Medail, 2003). On the other hand, forestry scientists hypothesise that timber requirements for shipbuilding were probably a driving force for tree plantation (Bernetti, 1995).

2Several ancient wooden shipwrecks, harbours and submerged sites have frequently been found in the Mediterranean Sea, especially in France (Gianfrotta and Pomey 1981; Guibal and Pomey, 2003; Wichaet al., 2003) and, subordinately, in Italy (Gianfrotta and Pomey, 1981; Abbate Edlmann and Giachi, 1989; Steffy, 1994; Boetto, 2002 a, b, c, d, e; Giachi et al., 2003). These discoveries are important in ancient maritime, economic and naval history studies as well as in vegetation history and biogeography.

3In 2004 three shipwrecks were found in the Roman harbour of Neapolis during excavations at the Piazza Municipio for the new subway line (Giampaola et al., 2005). The discovery of these shipwrecks gave the opportunity to investigate which tree species were chosen and processed, and also yielded information on timber resources. In fact, the nature of the sediment allowed organic content to be preserved giving the opportunity to identify both the wood taxa used as timber and the ancient vegetation landscape through pollen analysis. Furthermore, the sample collection was facilitated by the terrestrial condition of the excavation. Only a few studies provide a multiproxy approach involving both pollen and wood analysis (Giachiet al., 2003; Muller, 2004; Mariotti Lippi et al., 2006).

4Here we present the analysis of one of the three ships found in Naples and correlate it with pollen data obtained from the coeval sedimentary layers. The shipwreck was dated to the boundary between the i and ii centuries AD and represents a small ship for harbour service. The main objectives of this work focus on the following points:

  • provenance of the ship and timber exploitation areas,

  • technological knowledge of wood proprieties, e.g. appropriate timber/function and structural role relationships.

1 - The study site

5The study site is located in Naples, southern Italy (40° 50′ 23′′ N, 14° 15′10′′ E, elevation 0 a.s.l), about 240 m inland with respect to the present-day harbour (fig. 1). The town of Naples, founded in the vii century BC, represents a typical example of a stratified city. It is located within the graben structure of the Campanian Plain which developed between the western sector of the Apennine Chain and the eastern margin of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Two volcanic areas, spaced less than 10 km apart, are situated at the borders of the town area: the Somma-Vesuvius Volcano (eastern border) and the Phlegraean Volcanic District (western border).

Fig.1 - Location of the sites cited in the text.

Fig. 1 - Location of the sites cited in the text.

A, Naples; B, Mt. Motola; C, Mt. Faiatella; D, Mt. Picentini; E, Mt. Matese; F, Mt. Cervialto.

1.1 - Climate and present vegetation

6The climate is typically Mediterranean with mild rainy winters and hot dry summers. The mean minimum temperatures never fall below 0 °C. Concerning the mean temperatures, the coldest month is February (8.5 °C), while the hottest one is August (24.1 °C). Mean annual precipitation is 1012 mm, with a maximum precipitation in November (152 mm) and a minimum in July (24 mm).

7The town of Naples is at present intensely built-up, and woody vegetation only covers a few patches on the hills behind the town. The survival of agricultural areas is very limited too, they are scattered and with small extension in the eastern periphery and on the low hills behind the town. Mixed mesophilous forest taxa and prevailingly chestnut woodlands partially cover the northern and the gentler slopes with greater water availability; Quercuspubescens, Q.ilex and maquis species occupy the more sunny southern slopes. Other areas with natural vegetation cover are located on the Phlegrean and Vesuvian volcanic areas respectively at the western and eastern borders of the town. Here, a complex mosaic of cultivated and mesophylous species covers the northern slopes and the low hills (up to 457 m a.s l.), whether maquis species, Q. pubescens and Q. ilex cover the southern slopes of the Phlegrean area.

2 - Materials and methods

2.1 - The sediments

8A sandy-silt sediment succession of about six metres was brought to light in the Piazza Municipio excavations. It represents the infilling of a protected inlet of the ancient Roman harbour, which was located a few hundred metres inland with respect to the modern coast line (Günther, 1904; Capasso, 1905; Napoli, 1967 and 1969). The sedimentary succession is well constrained by archaeological findings and spans between the iii century BC and vi century AD when the site was definitively buried due to overfill (Giampaola et al, 2005). The waterlogged condition of the site allowed a good preservation of the organic matter.

2.2 - The shipwreck

9The shipwreck Napoli C was found in the sedimentary infilling of the Neapolis harbour and was dated to the boundary between the i and ii century AD. It was probably abandoned due to its bad condition, which was inferred by archaeologists through the findings of several hull repairs. The preserved ship is 13.2 m in length, 3.7 m wide and 0.8 m of deep. It is a flattened bottom little ship with a transom stern.

10Comparison with iconographic sources and with two similar ships found in Toulon harbour in France (Brun and Borréiani, 1999) allows wreck Napoli C to be attributed to the horeja kind, a ship for fishing or harbour service. The hull comprises a keel, 52 planking elements, 115 frames and 12 ceilings (Giampaola et al., 2005).

2.3 - Wood identification

11Each wooden element was sampled and labelled according to its structural role (Boetto in Giampaola et al., 2005). When cracked or discontinuous elements (maybe assembled or repaired) were recognised, wood samples were taken from each single segment. Samples were stored in fresh water in order to maintain the waterlogged status and prevent decay. 206 wood samples were analysed, 16 from the ceiling, 110 from the frame, 70 from the planking, 10 from repairs and finally the keel. The good preservation state allowed botanical identification through observation of anatomical wood features. Thin sections of 20-25μ were obtained with a frozen microtome and identified with the help of transmitted light microscope (40X-1000X), using wood anatomy atlases (Schweingruber, 1990; Greguss, 1959) and our reference collection.

2.4 - Pollen analysis

12Pollen analysis was undertaken on 8 sandy-silt samples taken from the sedimentary layers in which shipwreck Napoli C was found, and well constrained by archaeological findings to the i century AD. Chemical (HCl 20%, HF 39%, hot HCl 10%) and physical (sieving on 200μ, floating with ZnCl2, ultrasonic filtering with an 11μ filter) treatments were used in order to concentrate the pollen grains in the residue. All samples were acetolysed. At least 300 pollen grains were counted at a 500X magnification; Lycopodium tablets were added to each sample for concentration estimates. Almost all samples were rich in pollen and in a good preservation state. The main aim of this work was a comparison with timber taxa used for ship building. In the detailed pollen diagram (fig. 2) only tree taxa are shown with their total percentages close to 100; the AP/Total values are also presented.

Fig.2 - Arboreal pollen diagram from the I century AD layers of the Neapolis harbour.

Fig. 2 - Arboreal pollen diagram from the I century AD layers of the Neapolis harbour.

Percentages were calculated from the total of arboreal pollen.

2.5 - Pollen vs. timber comparison

13Average pollen percent values were compared with the timber taxa percentages of ship Napoli C. In order to compare pollen and wood percentages, some modifications were adopted in the presentation of the results as the same rank of botanical identification is not always attainable in both pollen and wood analysis: the lowest identification level was chosen for comparison. In particular:

  • Ostrya/Carpinus wood is compared with the sum of Ostrya and Carpinus pollen;

  • pollen of Pinus spp. is compared with the sum of all timbers of Pinus sp. The identified Pinus wood taxa are shown in tab. 1;

  • Cupressussempervirens wood is compared with Cupressaceae pollen, including Cupressus, Juniperus and Taxus.

14Finally, the Pearson correlation index was calculated in order to asses the degree of similarity between pollen and timber values.

3 - Results

3.1 - Wood identification

15The analysis of 206 wood samples allowed 9 taxa to be identified. Both softwood and hardwood form the structure of the ship. The rate of softwood employment reaches about 40% of the total sum. The main timber was deciduous Quercus type, which reaches 58% of the total wooden samples. Among softwood, Abies and Cupressussempervirens reach 11% and 14% respectively. The taxa distribution in the structural elements is shown in tab. 1.

Tab. 1 - Amount and percent values of identified taxa in the structural units.

Tab. 1 - Amount and percent values of identified taxa in the structural units.

Percentages are calculated from the total number of the samples identified in each structural unit.

3.2 - Pollen analysis

16The arboreal pollen percentages are dominated by deciduous Quercus throughout the investigated period (fig. 2). This element, steadily present with 40-50%, is accompanied by other deciduous taxa such as Carpinus, Acer, Ulmus, Alnus and Corylus. This vegetation type probably occupied the slopes as well as the plain surrounding Neapolis. The Mediterranean elements are mainly represented by Quercus ilex and Olea, which, in some levels, exceed 10%. Their location in the landscape of Neapolis could have been the steepest coastal sector, or they were possibly mixed with the deciduous forest elements in areas with thin and eroded soils. The mountain elements are mainly represented by low values of Abies, Fagus and Betula, probably coming from the closest areas. Among the tree cultivations it is worth noting the constant and significant presence of Juglans and the sporadic occurrence of Castanea.

4 - Discussion

4.1 - Wood technological properties vs functional roles

17The number of identified wood taxa in ship Napoli C is in the range of the other Mediterranean shipwrecks (2‑12; Bourquin-Mignot and Guibal, 1999). The number of taxa does not have a precise meaning since a small number could be interpreted in terms of quality and homogeneity but, a large amount of taxa could mean structural complexity and a precise choice in wood technological proprieties (Bourquin-Mignot and Guibal, 1999). Nevertheless, inhomogeneous wood assemblages could also mean scarcity of woodland resources (Guibal and Pomey, 1998; Bourquin-Mignot and Guibal, 1999; Guibal and Pomey, 2003). On account of this, before attempting an assessment of timber/woodland relationships, an overview of taxa distribution in the different structural blocks is elucidated with the aim of discerning the selection criteria used in the shipbuilding.

4.1.1 - Planking

18In Greco-Roman shipbuilding planking is the main structural element of the ship. It constitutes the external shell of the hull and represents the first shaped element around which the whole ship is built (Gianfrotta and Pomey, 1981). Utmost care and a greater selection of taxa were usually adopted for its construction (Gianfrotta and Pomey, 1981; Rival, 1991). The almost exclusive use of coniferous wood in ship Napoli C fits well with the previous analysis on Mediterranean shipwrecks (Rival, 1991; Guibal and Pomey, 2003). Softwood was traditionally employed to shape the hull in Greco-Roman shipbuilding despite the prevailing use of Quercus in Celtic naval carpentry (Gianfrotta and Pomey, 1981). In light of this, it is possible to state that the use of coniferous wood comes from a weighted selection of appropriate timbers. The use of the identified softwood taxa allowed the shaping of long curve elements, as these timbers are elastic, easy to carve and suitable for long boards. The knowledge of technological properties of coniferous wood is attested by some classical authors (Rival, 1991).

4.1.2 - Frames

19Frames are transversal elements strongly linked with planking. In the Greco-Roman “shell-first” construction technique the frames had a marginal structural role both in the shape and in the firmness of the ship. Often frames are very inhomogeneous and the assemblage of used taxa is mostly related to local availability and to the ease of supply than to a specific technological characteristic. The almost exclusive use of deciduous Quercus for the frame in the wreck Napoli C suggests a wide availability of this taxon in the surrounding landscape. However, deciduous Quercus wood is heavy, has a high axial compression strength and is also durable in wet conditions (Giordano, 1981). Quercus (deciduous, evergreen and unspecified) wood was widely employed in ancient ships, mainly for frames but also for planking, ceiling and, in several cases, for the keel (i.e. Rival, 1991, Bourquin-Mignot and Guibal, 1999).

4.1.3 - Ceiling

20The ceiling of Napoli C is represented by a few internal longitudinal elements which served to join the transversal frames. Although there is not a great number of xylological identification on Mediterranean wreck ceilings, it seems that no great selection of taxa was adopted.

21In the ship Napoli C the identified taxa were also used to shape other ship elements, where a strong relationship was observed between technological characteristic and function. A shipyard stock provenance can be inferred for the ceiling of Napoli C as deciduous Quercus, as well as fir and pine wood, were employed in other structural elements and the use of a certain wood seems mostly related to availability rather than to a particular need.

4.1.4 - Repairs

22As for the ceiling, no taxa selection was adopted for the repairs of Napoli C, where both softwood and hardwood were employed. So, also in this case, a shipyard stock provenance can be inferred.

4.2 - Provenance of the ship

23Frequently, the cargo of a ship allows the last course and the age of wrecking to be deduced, however it cannot be used to infer the shipyard site (Gianfrotta and Pomey, 1981). Xylological analysis can be used to assess the provenance hypotheses but it rarely yields reliable answers. Taxa homogeneity and a restricted species range allowed the provenance of two (vs seventeen) wrecks recovered along the French coasts to be ascertained (Bourquin-Mignot and Guibal, 1999; Guibal and Pomey, 1999). A local provenance hypothesis was also given for a wreck from the Adriatic Sea (Beltrame and Gaddi, 2007).

24Wood analysis of ship Napoli C did not always allow the species rank to be determined and no local endemism was found. Thus, the extensive wood analysis did not allow the boat to be provenanced. An integrated approach comparing local pollen data with shipbuilding timber taxa turned out to be useful. This approach has already been attempted elsewhere: Muller (2004) analysed the pollen content preserved on the wooden elements of a ship under the resin cover to assess timber provenance; Giachi et al., (2003), in the ancient harbour of Pisa, analysed samples from sediment cores in close proximity to the wrecks in order to assess the availability of the timber species used for the ships.

25In the case of the Napoli C wreck, the hypothesis of a local provenance is strongly supported by the ship architecture. In fact, it deals with a small ship for harbour service which was not suitable for long distance transportation. This hypothesis is strengthened by pollen-timber comparison; all timber types used in the shipwreck are present in pollen spectra (fig. 3) and thus available for timber production in support of shipbuilding. The high value (0.95) of the Pearson correlation coefficient between pollen and wood percentages further supports the local provenance hypothesis.

26Pollen data are not helpful in proving the presence of Cupressus sempervirens as the identification does not go beyond the family rank. Nevertheless, as the local occurrence of this specie is well attested by cones found in sediments from Neapolis harbour, we can assert that Cupressus sempervirens pollen at least contributed to the Cupressaceae sum.

Fig.3 - Comparison between percentages of pollen (light grey) and timber of the shipwreck (dark grey) found in Neapolis harbour.

Fig.3 - Comparison between percentages of pollen (light grey) and timber of the shipwreck (dark grey) found in Neapolis harbour.

Mean percent of pollen taxa is calculated by averaging the percent values of each taxon within the total of arboreal pollen across the i AD samples. Percent of timber taxa is calculated from the total of all identified structural units.

4.3 - Main taxa used as timbers and their possible source areas

4.3.1. - Abies cfr. alba

27Abies use in Mediterranean shipbuilding is very frequent and its use prevails in the longitudinal elements of the ship, such as the ceiling and planking. Very limited use of Abies for different structural elements is attested, e.g. for treenails in the i century AD Nemi lake ships in central Italy (Gianfrotta and Pomey, 1981) and in the i century BC French ship Cavaliere (Guibal and Pomey, 2003). The results on the ship Napoli C confirm the main use of fir for ceiling and for planking.

28Abies use for shipbuilding is also attested by Pliny and its technological properties are described by Theophrastus (Rival, 1991 and references therein). Abies wood is very light, elastic and easy to carve, it provides long and straight boards but it is not durable in wet environments (Giordano, 1981).

29Anatomical features of Abies wood do not allow identification to species level (Schweingruber, 1990). Several species of Abies grow in the Mediterranean basin, most of which now have a restricted or endemic distribution. Attribution to Abiesalba is plausible due to the wide distribution of this species in the Italian peninsula. Thus, we can suppose that the wood used for Napoli C shipwreck could be A. alba. At present, in Italy, the white fir only has a few small and scattered spontaneous stands along the southern Apennine above 800 m a.s.l. (Pignatti, 1982) but, its diffusion was certainly wider in the past, its decline being mainly attributed to human impact (i.e. Küster, 1994; Quézel and Medail 2003).

30Abies pollen was found in the spectra from the Neapolis harbour sediments but it is very scarce. This scarcity could be the effect of the far distance from possible source areas. At present, the nearest spontaneous stands of Abiesalba are located in high altitude areas (fig.1); [Mt Motola (Moggi, 1958), Mts Picentini (Moraldo et al., 1981), Mt Matese, (Bianchini, 1987), and Mt Faiatella (Abbate et al., 1997)], not conceivable as pollen source areas seeing as they lie far from the study site.

31Several references do exist for firwood as timber in Roman times within 20 km from the study site; it was the most frequent timber for Herculaneum furniture (Mols, 2002; Fioravanti and Gallotta, 2005) and probably constituted the roof of a ii/iii - v century AD building on the northern slope of the Vesuvius (Allevato and Di Pasquale, in press). Though P.Y. Kuniholm (2002) elucidated, through dendrochronological analysis, an Alpine provenance for the firtimber found at Herculaneum/Pompeii, the presence of fir forests in the southern Apennines was well testified until the end of Middle ages (Russo Ermolli and Di Pasquale, 2002); fir pollen was also found on roof tiles of a villa rustica in the Pompeian countryside (Mariotti Lippi and Bellini, 2006). This evidence suggests a wider diffusion of A. alba in the surroundings of Neapolis during Roman times and a later reduction. The wide use of Abies for the ceiling as well as in the planking of ship Napoli C allows a great availability of this timber to be inferred in the shipyard and thus a close provenance of A. alba timber for Neapolis shipbuilding to be presumed. This is also in agreement with the economic base.

4.3.2. - Cupressus

32The use of Cupressussempervirens timber is limited to a few plankings in ship Napoli C. The use of C.sempervirens for the hull fits well with its elasticity and the feasibility to obtain long and right boards as well as with its high durability in wet environments (Giordano, 1981; Nardi Berti, 2006). Knowledge of the technological properties of C.sempervirens is well attested by classical authors, such as Theophrastus and Pliny, which focused on its main characteristic: the high resistance to decay (Rival, 1991 and references therein).

33The extensive use of C. sempervirens is attested in Turkish ships (Gianfrotta and Pomey, 1981; Giachi et al., 2003; Boetto, 2006) and in other wrecks from the Tyrrhenian Sea (Boetto, 2002 a,c,d,e; Giachiet al.,2003) while, in the western Mediterranean, itis rarely observed in the French wrecks. Ship Napoli C, from this point of view, seems similar to the central and eastern Mediterranean ships.

34C.sempervirens has an eastern Mediterranean origin but its cultivation probably started in Italy during Etruscan times (Pignatti, 1982; Quézel and Médail, 2003) and gradually it became a characteristic element of the landscape (Di Pasquale et al.,2004). Currently, it can be found growing in cultivation or locally naturalized throughout the entire Mediterranean region.

35Pollen of Cupressaceae is very scarce in pollen spectra from Neapolis harbour, and the use of C.sempervirens timber in the ship is moderate. Pollen data cannot reliably state the presence of C. sempervirens as the identification stops at family level. Nevertheless, the local occurrence of this species is attested by cones found in the sediments of the Neapolis harbour, so it is probable that C. sempervirens pollen contributed to the sum of Cupressaceae family. The presence of C.sempervirens was also attested at Pompeii by macroremains (Ciaraldi, 2000; Robinson, 2006) and plantations of cypress were found on the outskirts of Pompeii (Ruggiero, 1878; Conticello-de Spagnolis, 1994).

36During the early Roman Empire C.sempervirens was mainly used in parks, cemeteries and for marking boundaries (Meiggs, 1982) but, in the vi century AD, Cassiodorus gives an account for C.sempervirens as a good timber in Italy (Reddé, 1986). The archaeobotanical data and quotations from classical literature allow a local provenance of the timber to not be excluded, suggesting the close existence of plantation of C.sempervirens for wood production. However, an allocthonous origin cannot be completely ruled out.

4.3.3 - Pinus sylvestris group

37Wood of the Pinus sylvestris group was widely employed to shape the hull in ship Napoli C. Wood anatomy cannot help in distinguishing the different species within the group; in fact, the Pinus sylvestris group includes P. mugo. P. sylvestris and P. nigra (Schweingruber, 1990).

38P. mugo is not considered as a good timber due to its shrubby or prostrate shape with numerous crooked areas. P. sylvestris and P. nigra timbers are considered both useful in shipbuilding, because their technological characteristics are very similar. They both have good mechanical properties but the timber is not very durable and it can be attacked by insects and wood decay (Giordano, 1981; Nardi Berti, 2006). The traditional use of this taxon for hull construction is widely attested by recent works on Mediterranean wrecks. This taxon was also employed to shape ceiling and planking in several Mediterranean shipwrecks, in Italy (Abate Edlmmann and Giachi, 1988) and in France (Rival, 1991; Guibal and Pomey, 2003).

39In the Italian peninsula, P. sylvestris has a northern distribution: it grows in the Alps, in the northern Apennine and it has a small extension as a relict woodland in the maritime Alps, never reaching more southern latitudes (Pignatti, 1982). P. nigra has a wide range but with a scattered pattern. Two taxa belonging to the P. nigra group growind in Italy: P. nigra subsp. laricio and P. nigra subsp. nigra withdistinct distribution ranges. P. nigra subsp. laricio (P. laricio according to Pignatti, 1982) lives in Calabria, Sicily and Corsica between 800 and 1800 m a.s.l.; P. nigra subsp. nigra (P. nigra according to Pignatti, 1982) has, at present, a discontinuous range with populations in north-eastern and in central-southern Italy. A smallrelict population is present on Mt. Cervialto, 80 km south of Naples (La Valvaet al.,1976; Pignatti, 1982).

40Considering the Napoli C wreck location we can hypothesise the southern Apennine as a timber supply area. However, classical literary sources also strengthen this hypothesis, in fact, southern Italy is attested as having supplied good timber for shipbuilding (Meiggs, 1982).

4.3.4 - Decidous Quercus

41The extensive use of deciduous Quercus in ship Napoli C was expected because of its wide diffusion in the surrounding landscape, also confirmed by pollen spectra, and for its large use in the Roman shipbuilding industry.

42Pollen spectra suggest the presence of a mixed broadleaved woodland dominated by Quercusin the immediate vicinity of the site. The use of other tree taxa for minor elements of ship Napoli C is certainly related to scarce availability in the shipyard, also suggested by the low pollen frequences. As Neapolis was an urban area, the timber source area was probably located on the hills behind the town.

4.3.5 - Juglans regia

43Walnut timber is not traditionally employed in Roman shipbuilding and its use for frames and repairing in ship Napoli C could be mainly related to its availability. In fact, pollen as well as abundant walnut carporemains testify to the constant and significant presence of Juglansregia throughout the investigated period (fig 2). The presence of Juglans in pollenrecordsis generally considered to reflect human activity due to the fact that this species is not autocthonous in Europe (Hopf, 1991; Kelly and Huntley, 1991). Clear evidence of tree growing is attested by frequent botanical remains in European countries, especially from the Roman period onwards (Zohary and Hopf, 1994). The presence of Juglans trees in the Vesuvius area is attested by charcoals (Jashemski et al., 2002; Allevato and Di Pasquale, in press), carporemains (Meyer, 1988) and timber (Mols,  et al.,2002); several fruit seeds were also found on the palaeo-sea floors of the Neapolis harbour after the i century AD.


44The multiproxy approach, using pollen and extensive wood analyses, allowed the local provenance of ship Napoli C to be elucidated. Even if the wreck deals with a small ship for harbour service, it was built with care; in fact, a good relationship was observed between technological properties and the functional role of the wooden elements. Furthermore, the timber selection criteria fit well with other Mediterranean shipwrecks.

45A more accurate selection and a preference for softwood were adopted for planking elements, while the use of hardwood and/or of shipyard stock was adopted to shape the other structural units. A good compromise was observed between the quality of the ship, the wood availability and the ease of supply.

46The supplying took place not far from the shipyard, both from tree growing and from wild forests. It is noteworthy to underline the hypothesis of Cupressus sempervirens and Juglans regia tree growing for timber production.

47A wider diffusion of the Abies alba and Pinus nigra groups is also suggested in the southern Apennine in Roman times.

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List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1 - Location of the sites cited in the text.
Caption A, Naples; B, Mt. Motola; C, Mt. Faiatella; D, Mt. Picentini; E, Mt. Matese; F, Mt. Cervialto.
File image/png, 551k
Title Fig. 2 - Arboreal pollen diagram from the I century AD layers of the Neapolis harbour.
Caption Percentages were calculated from the total of arboreal pollen.
File image/png, 163k
Title Tab. 1 - Amount and percent values of identified taxa in the structural units.
Caption Percentages are calculated from the total number of the samples identified in each structural unit.
File image/png, 28k
Title Fig.3 - Comparison between percentages of pollen (light grey) and timber of the shipwreck (dark grey) found in Neapolis harbour.
Caption Mean percent of pollen taxa is calculated by averaging the percent values of each taxon within the total of arboreal pollen across the i AD samples. Percent of timber taxa is calculated from the total of all identified structural units.
File image/png, 76k
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Electronic reference

Emilia Allevato, Elda Russo Ermolli and Gaetano di Pasquale, « Woodland exploitation and Roman shipbuilding », Méditerranée [Online], 112 | 2009, Online since 01 January 2011, connection on 17 December 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/mediterranee.3095

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About the authors

Emilia Allevato

Dipartimento di Arboricoltura, Botanica e Patologia Vegetale
Università di Napoli Federico II

Elda Russo Ermolli

Dipartimento di Arboricoltura, Botanica e Patologia Vegetale
Università di Napoli Federico II

Gaetano di Pasquale

Dipartimento di Arboricoltura, Botanica e Patologia Vegetale
Università di Napoli Federico II

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Tous droits réservés

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