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Duck, fish and human remains to-go? Pompeii eatery unravels clues to past

Sun 27 Dec 2020    
| 3 min read

A fast-food eatery at Pompeii, partially excavated last year, has now been unveiled to showcase artistic novelties and hints of dishes that were popular among the age-old citizens of the ancient Roman city.

Pompeii Archaeological Park’s longtime chief, Massimo Osanna said Saturday that while some 80 such fast-foods have been found at Pompeii, it is the first time such a hot-food-drink eatery — known as a thermopolium — was completely unearthed.

A segment of the fast-food counter was partially dug up in 2019 during work to restore Pompeii’s oft-crumbling ruins holding several keys to the past since the city’s destruction in 79 A.D.

Ever since, archaeologists kept chipping away the mysteries at the site to reveal a multi-sided-counter, with typical wide holes inserted into its top. The countertop — frescoed with images of full-plumed mallards, roosters, what have you, likely to advertise the menu — held deep vessels for hot foods, not unlike soup containers nestled into modern-day salad bars.

Valeria Amoretti, a Pompeii staff anthropologist, said “initial analyses confirm how the painted images represent, at least in part, the foods and beverages effectively sold inside.”

Her statement noted that duck bone fragment was found in one of the containers, along with remains from goats, pigs, fish and snails. At the bottom of a wine container were traces of ground fava beans, which in ancient times were added to wine for flavour and to lighten its colour, Amoretti said.

Another fresco depicted a dog on a leash, perhaps not unlike modern reminders to leash pets. Vulgar graffiti were inscribed on the painting’s frame.

One surprise find was the complete skeleton of a dog. The discovery intrigued the excavators, since it wasn’t a “large, muscular dog like that painted on the counter but of an extremely small example” of an adult dog, whose height at shoulder level was 20-to-25 centimeters (8-to-10 inches).

It’s rather rare, Amoretti said, to find remains from ancient times of such small dogs, discoveries that “attest to selective breeding in the Roman epoch to obtain this result.”

Also unearthed were a bronze ladle, nine amphorae, which were popular food containers in Roman times, a couple of flasks and a ceramic oil container.

Human remains were also discovered in the excavation of the eatery.

Those bones were apparently disturbed in the 17th century during clandestine excavations by thieves looking for valuables, Pompeii authorities said.

Some of the bones belonged to a man, who, when the Vesuvius volcano erupted, appeared to have been lying on a bed or a cot, since nails and pieces of wood were found under his body, authorities said. Other human remains were found inside one of the counter’s vessels, possibly placed there by those excavators centuries ago.

This is the latest in Pompeii’s historic finds this year with the unearthing of the exceptionally well-preserved remains of two men scalded to death on-site last month.

 Two charred men: Ancient remains unearthed at Pompeii

Pompeii was home to some 13,000 people when it was buried under the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which is near present-day Naples, in a blast equaling the force of many atomic bombs.

Much of the ancient city still lies un-excavated. The site is one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions.

[Sourced from Agencies]