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Imperato, Cirillo, and a series of unfortunate events: a novel approach to assess the unknown provenance of historical herbarium specimens

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During a survey of the historical collections stored at the Herbarium of the Facolta' di Agraria, Universita' di Napoli (PORUN), we found 170 specimens of unknown provenance mixed within the surviving Domenico Cirillo's herbarium (18th century). These 170 specimens were strikingly different from the rest and had never been studied previously. From an initial close examination, we suggested that they may date back to the 16th to 17th century, and likely have been part of Ferrante Imperato's historical herbarium. To test our initial hypothesis, we employed an empirical approach to assess the age and provenance of these specimens. First of all, we assembled the available literature regarding the history of Italian botanical collections and collectors from the 16th to the 18th century in the political context of those years. We integrated our historical reconstruction with results obtained by radiocarbon analyses of the specimens and mounting paper, and watermark and paleographic analyses. Our combined results are consistent with the hypothesis that these unknown specimens may have been part of an 80 volumes herbarium that belonged to Ferrante Imperato, one of the earliest natural historians of our times. Our integrated methodology is novel in the field of historical specimen research and was critical in generating our final conclusions.
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Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: 1: Laboratorio di Ecologia applicata, Department Ar.Bo.Pa.Ve., University of Naples “Federico II” – Via Universit√†, 100, 80055 Portici (NA), Italy;, Email: [email protected] 2: Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, 354 Dickinson Hall, PO Box 117800, Gainesville, Florida 32611-7800, U.S.A.

Publication date: 01 August 2009

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