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'Fast-food' bar frozen in Pompeii ash gives clues on Roman snacking habits

27 December 2020, MVT 22:42
This picture released on December 26, 2020 by the Pompei Press Office shows a thermopolium, a sort of street "fast-food" counter in ancient Rome, that has been unearthed in Pompei, decorated with polychrome motifs and in an exceptional state of preservation. - The counter frozen by volcanic ash had been partly unearthed in 2019 but the work was extended to best preserve the entire site, located at the crossroads of rue des Noces d'Argent and rue des Balcons. (Photo by Luigi Spina / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / POMPEI PRESS OFFICE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
27 December 2020, MVT 22:42

A 2,000-year-old fast-food stall unearthed from the ash of Pompeii has given researchers new clues about the snacking habits of the ancient Romans.

The ornate snack bar counter, decorated with polychrome patterns and frozen by volcanic ash, was partially exhumed last year but archaeologists extended work on the site to reveal it in its full glory.

Pompeii was buried in a sea of boiling lava when the volcano on nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing between 2,000 and 15,000 people.

Archaeologists continue to make discoveries there.

The thermopolium -- from the Greek "thermos" for hot and "poleo" to sell -- at what was a busy intersection of Silver Wedding Street and Alley of Balconies, was the Roman era equivalent of a fast-food snack stall.

The team found duck bone fragments as well as the remains of pigs, goats, fish and snails in earthenware pots. Some of the ingredients had been cooked together like a Roman era paella.

Crushed fava beans, used to modify the taste of wine, were found at the bottom of one jar.

The counter appears to have been closed in a hurry and abandoned by its owners -- perhaps as the first rumblings of the eruption were felt -- Massimo Osanna, director general at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, told Ansa news agency.

Witness to antiquity

Amphorae, a water tower and a fountain were found alongside human remains, including those of a man believed to have been aged around 50 and discovered near a child's bed.

"It is possible that someone, perhaps the oldest man, stayed behind and perished during the first phase of the eruption," Osanna told Ansa news agency.

The remains of another person were also found and could be an opportunist thief or someone fleeing the eruption who was "surprised by the burning vapours just as he had his hand on the lid of the pot that he had just opened", added Osanna.

In the latest stage of their work, archaeologists uncovered a number of still life scenes, including depictions of animals believed to have been on the menu, notably mallard ducks and a rooster, for serving up with wine or hot beverages.

Previously unearthed was a fresco bearing an image of a Nereid nymph riding a seahorse and gladiators in combat.

"As well as bearing witness to daily life in Pompeii, the possibilities to analyse afforded by this thermopolium are exceptional because for the first time we have excavated a site in its entirety," said Massimo Osanna, director general at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

The thermopolium was very popular in the Roman world. Pompeii alone had around 80.

The massive site that spreads over 44 hectares (110 acres) is what remains of one of the richest cities in the Roman empire. Layers of ash buried many buildings and objects in a nearly pristine state, including curled-up corpses of victims.

Pompeii is Italy's second most visited site after the Colisseum in Rome and last year attracted around four million tourists.

Rome, Italy | AFP