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The destruction of the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and the villas in the surrounding area by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 preserved a unique body of information about flora and fauna, such as is available at no other ancient site. Root cavities can be emptied of lapilli and casts made of roots that were growing at the time of the eruption. Planting patterns also help to identify the plants raised. Soil contours, which vary according to the crop, are preserved by the lapilli just as they were in A.D. 79. Carbonized, or partially carbonized fruit, nuts, vegetables, root material, branches, and twigs are at times preserved. Ancient pollen also furnishes valuable evidence. The bones of mammals and the shells of mollusks and echinoderms are often found, as well as a few bird bones. Paintings preserve the actual appearance of the ancient plants, mammals, birds, and marine animals. Unfortunately, much of this evidence has been lost, for until recently excavators have not been interested in such finds. Today scientific garden archaeology carefully salvages all such evidence. The excavated evidence is then studied, together with the comments of the ancient writers and in the light of modern practices, which strikingly continue those of antiquity. Many scientists, in diverse disciplines, have cooperated in identifying and interpreting this valuable evidence.

This chapter briefly reports the excavation of six different types of sites, three at Pompeii and three at nearby villas, and discusses specific examples of the various types of evidence of flora and fauna preserved by Vesuvius at these sites.

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