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Tree Rings as Chimps

A few years ago, someone told me that it is very important to have heroes, real people or fictional characters whose example I should follow. I suddenly realized that I never had a hero, not even when I was little. There are many people that I have admired for different reasons, but never in my life did I linger on someone – famous or not – and take them as role models. Therefore, I started thinking about the things I wanted to change about myself, about what kind of person I wanted to be. After a while, Jane Goodall popped up in my mind (good job, National Geographic!). She always impressed me for her incredible patience and determination. She didn’t know anything about chimpanzees, yet she decided to go to Tanzania and devote her life to knowing more about these animals. She found her place in the world and she never stopped working to make it better. So I decided that tree rings were going to be my chimps. At the beginning of my PhD studies, although very enthusiastic, I found myself being overwhelmed by the huge amount of information tree rings carry (how on earth was I supposed to find what I needed?). Following Jane’s example, I started to calmly observe and try to put the puzzle together. Needless to say, I’m not even halfway through it! The more I learn, the more I understand that I’ll never know everything about trees. But instead of feeling frustrated (which, of course, sometimes happens), I’m training myself to just accept it and enjoy the beauty of these incredibly evolved creatures. By studying tree rings, I want to become more patient and determined, I want to overcome my fears, and finally learn what it feels to be self-confident despite my limitations. Besides, tree rings make me happy, and being happy is my own way of being useful to society.


My journey to dendro slowly began in 2017. I just came back to Italy after a great Erasmus experience in Germany, and I came across a flyer of a summer school in landscape archaeology. With amazement, I learned that charcoals and tree rings can be used to understand past forest management! I decided to enroll even if I had all the ECTS credits that I needed to graduate. During our week in the Colli Euganei area (Padova, Italy), Alan Crivellaro introduced me to the colorful beauty of wood anatomy, and Sandrine Paradis-Grenouillet to the black charm of anthracology. I’ll never stop thanking my-younger self for making the decision to participate in that summer school.


Later, Sandrine offered me an internship in Limoges, at the Laboratoire de Geographie Physique et Environnementale, and together we wrote a PhD project which was funded in 2019. It turned out that charcoals were not exactly my thing, which is why we decided that I’d be focusing on historical timber and its provenance. This project is not only a job to me, but also a personal challenge. I have a background in archaeology, and dealing with disciplines such as wood anatomy, plant biology and statistics means going far away from my comfort zone. Moreover, the dendro community never ceases to amaze me. International associations – such as the European ATR – promote events and keep the community together; experienced researchers do their best to help students by organizing fieldweeks and workshops, or by simply being available and open for discussion. This blog is a case in point!


I profoundly love and miss Italy, but I chose to come to Limoges because the opportunity to find my place in the world has been offered to me. During my internship at the GEOLAB, for the first time in my life someone left me alone in the lab and literally told me, “Go ahead, I trust you”. What a great feeling! That is when I started believing a little in myself, too.


The so-called "Quartier de la Boucherie" in Limoges (France), the historic district where I took most of my samples.

Most of the times, samples are collected from historic buildings in the form of cores. However, when a house is under renovation, we sometimes get the permission to cut slices :)


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