Friday, January 3, 2014

Pompeii buffet

For the last 20 years, a team of classicists and archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati has excavated and studied a small area of Pompeii with the goal of uncovering the structural and social relationships over time between working-class Pompeian households. The Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia is concentrated inside one of the busiest gates of the ancient city, and includes 20 shop fronts that mostly sold food and drink. By examining fossilized waste from drains, cesspits, and latrines – which includes charred food scraps from kitchens and human excrement – the researchers have unraveled the infrastructure of food consumption and dispelled long-held beliefs about the diet of the average ancient Roman. The material from the drains showed a clear socio-economic distinction between the homes, although grains, fruits, nuts, lentils, fish, and eggs were inexpensive and widely available to all classes. Some households had consumed more expensive cuts of meat and salted fish from Spain. The residents of one property in particular had imported a variety of delicacies, including spices, shellfish, sea urchin, and a particular cut of meat. Archaeologist Steven Ellis relates, "That the bone represents the height of exotic food is underscored by the fact that this is thought to be the only giraffe bone ever recorded from an archaeological excavation in Roman Italy. How part of the animal, butchered, came to be a kitchen scrap in a seemingly standard Pompeian restaurant not only speaks to long-distance trade in exotic and wild animals, but also something of the richness, variety and range of a non-elite diet."

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