Category Archives: ITALY

Meet Italus, a 1,230-year-old pine tree from Italy who just became the oldest scientifically-dated tree in Europe.

A Heldreich’s pine in Italy is named Europe’s oldest tree at 1,230 years when King Charlemagne lived and the Vikings raided

If you’re looking for the world’s record-breaker when it comes to the oldest tree on the planet, experts say head to the Great Basin National Park in the United States and search for a bristlecone pine with an age determined to be a flabbergasting 5,065 years.

As for the oldest tree in Europe, travel to the south of Italy, in the Pollino National Park.

There a Heldreich’s pine or Pinus heldreichii, nicknamed Italus, has been rising on a mountainous ridge, some two hours’ drive from the city of Naples, for about 1,230 years.

The chances are that there could be older trees in Europe, but as of now, the spotlight is on Italus, which, after an in-depth scientific dating, has been recognized as the oldest tree on the Old Continent.

Rooted in an age-old forest, and still standing with its now whitened trunk, Italus seems to have far surpassed the expectations for its age.

Pinus heldreichii (Serra delle Ciavole). 

The analysis, which was meticulously carried by experts, combining several different methods, proved not only the extreme age of the pine but also that the tree has recently added new rings to its trunk.

To pin down the age of Italus, experts have faced a few challenges, however. As a co-author of the study, Alfredo Di Filippo, told the National Geographic, “The inner part of the wood was like dust—we never saw anything like it.”

Monte Pollino, southern Italy 

Di Filippo, who is a professor at the Italian Tuscia University, said there were at least 7.9 inches of wood missing, which equates to a substantial number of years. In fact, it was the part of the tree that contained the oldest of all rings that were gone.

Which is why the research team, led by Gianluca Piovesan, needed to consider several methods to work out the pine’s age. To see when the tree first started to sprout, the team used radiocarbon-dating on the roots that were exposed, then compared the tree-rings in its roots with those that were sampled from the trunk.

“By joining these two methods, we were able to establish the time frame much more precisely,” says Piovesan

Eventually, an accurate calculation was made that Italus has been in its place since around the year 789. The Pollino National Park was established quite recently in the tree’s long lifetime, in 1993.

The year in which scientists suggest the tree was born was an interesting one. It was the time when King Pepin of Italy captured Istria, when King Charlemagne came to the Baltic, and also just about the time when the first Vikings appeared in England, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

This happened only two years after the first Viking raid in Dorset, the first event of its kind on the British Isles. These are now distant events in history, and Italus, which researchers are confident is healthy enough to enter the 14th century of its life some 70 years from now, has been a silent observer of history ever since.

Heldreich’s pine

And not only history. According to National Geographic, the ancient arbor is also a silent observer and survivor of climate change. Italus would have endured the harsh winters, colder than now, that marked a significant portion of the medieval era, after which it continued its life through times of much warmer temperatures but also severe drought seasons.

An analysis of the tree rings from different periods indicate the tree formed very narrow rings for a couple of centuries, while wider rings are the product of the more recent decades, a signal that it is currently living in a more favorable environment, according to National Geographic.

Map 28. Pinus heldreichii distribution

As the team that worked on the case point out, undertaking research on ancient trees is important for providing scientific knowledge of how trees and forests as a whole may react to climate change in the present.

On being pronounced the oldest scientifically dated tree in Europe, Italus stole the title from another Heldreich’s pine; the previous record holder, named Adonis after the ancient Greek deity of beauty and desire, is rooted in Greece and 1,077 years old.

Its age was determined by scientists in 2016, a process that reportedly progressed much more easily than the latest effort for Italus. Northern Europe can take further pride in being the home of Old Tjikko, a Norway spruce aged some 9,560 years and counted as the oldest individual tree in the world.

The principal reason why this tree has such an unbelievable age is vegetative cloning; the same roots of Old Tjikko have produced new trunks for over nine millennia now. Scientists identified its age after carbon dating only its roots, as the most recently formed trunk is much younger.

Pompeii ‘fast food’ bar unearthed in ancient city after 2,000 years

Pompeii ‘fast food’ bar unearthed in ancient city after 2,000 years

Because of its tragic demise, Pompeii’s ancient Roman city remained in a remarkable state of preservation, serving as one of the world’s most important archeological sites to this day.

From people immortalized in volcanic ash, to frescoes that would never have survived for so long if there wasn’t for their magma sarcophagus, Pompeii has provided scientists with unprecedented insight into the daily life of this historic civilization.

The recent unearthing of a “thermopolium” counter decorated with frescoes is already being hailed as a game-changer in the quest of re-enacting the cuisine and diet of ancient Romans who perished under the wrath of Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Thermopolium, dolias (jars) detail, of archaeological remains of the street Via Stabiana at Ruins of Pompeii. The city was an ancient Roman city destroyed by the volcano Vesuvius. Pompeii, Campania, Italy.
Thermopolium, dolias (jars) detail, of archaeological remains of the street Via Stabiana at Ruins of Pompeii. The city was an ancient Roman city destroyed by the volcano Vesuvius. Pompeii, Campania, Italy.

Thermopolia were at the epicenter of Roman street life, by providing pre-prepared meals for a low price. The word itself literally means “a place where (something) hot is sold.”

The counter of one such thermopolium was discovered in March 2019 in the sector designated Regio V, located to the north of the Pompeii archaeological site in an area not yet opened to the public. The news of the discovery first came via Instagram, where it was shared by Massimo Ossana, the superintendent of the site.

A thermopolium was a place where it was possible to purchase ready-to-eat food during the times of ancient Rome
A thermopolium was a place where it was possible to purchase ready-to-eat food during the times of ancient Rome

According to the Guardian, there were around 150 thermopolia fast food joints in the city of Pompeii, which served as a lifeline for the poor who often couldn’t afford to own a kitchen.

Some 2,000 years ago, the daily menu included easy-to-make specialties like coarse bread with salty fish, baked cheese, lentils, and spicy wine.

The counter is decorated with a fresco featuring earthenware jars, known as dolia, used to store foodstuffs such as dried meat. The fact that this thermopolium is adorned with a fresco implies that it was most probably owned by a well-off person, as such decorations were considered a luxury.

Roman kitchen of a thermopolium in Via Consolare at Ruins of Pompeii, Campania, Italy

Roman upper classes usually avoided and often scorned such places, considering them unworthy of their pedigree.

Nevertheless, fast food restaurants like this one were all the rage in Pompeii, as well as other huge trading centers of the Old World.

They were the vibrant social meeting places, and much like taverns, they were often the spots where business deals were closed.

The discovery of the thermopolium counter comes in a series of recent excavations in the Pompeii archaeological park.

Dolias (sunk into the counter) and fresco detail of archaeological remains of thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus, at Ruins of Pompeii, Italy
Dolias (sunk into the counter) and fresco detail of archaeological remains of thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus, at Ruins of Pompeii, Italy

In December 2018, well-preserved remnants of a horse with saddle were found in the park area, as well as another magnificent fresco that was unearthed in February 2019, in the remains of a villa.

The fresco features Narcissus, the mythological hunter who became infatuated with his own reflection in a pool of water.

Along with the fresco, human remains of two women and three children, all huddled together during the moments before their death.

The discovery of this group of skeletons reminded us once again of the proportions of the tragedy that was the eruption of Vesuvius, which killed more than 2,000 people and left an ancient city forever frozen in time.

Apart from Pompeii, the neighboring townships of Herculaneum, Stabiae, Oplontis, and Boscoreale also suffered greatly from the eruption which constitutes one of the worst known natural disasters of the ancient world.

Source: theguardian