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Exceptional snack-bar unearthed in Pompeii

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

Pompeii was full of fast-food joints, but just discovered is one superbly well-preserved.

Issue 1 of The Past covers the latest news from Herculaneum, but what about Pompeii? We are sure every past-lover caught the recent news about the current excavations of an ornate snack bar, or thermopolium – from the Greek thermos for hot and poleo to sell. It is one of around 80 fast-food joints in Pompeii. Just like today, these bars were very popular in the Roman world, but this one is exceptionally well preserved.

As you can see in the image above, the sides are festooned with vibrant still-life scenes. Among the decorations are animals which were probably on the menu, such as chicken and duck. Although the paintings are rather more attractive than anything found in our local Chicken Cottage, the eating habits are rather familiar … notably the fragments of duck bone the excavators found strewn around the floor.

The archaeologists also discovered pots with the mixed-up remnants of pork, goat, fish, and snail, suggesting that some of these ingredients were cooked together, perhaps to create a Roman-style paella. Rather less familiar to the modern drinker, however, was the discovery of crushed fava beans at the bottom of a wine jar – suggesting beans were used to temper the taste of the wine.

Alas, death was not far away. The archaeologists found a man’s body in the area, not directly in the bar, but near a child’s bed in the complex. Was he the erstwhile owner? The counter seems to have been closed in a hurry, possibly abandoned, apart from this man, who probably perished in Phase One of the eruption.

The remains of a second person have also been uncovered. His hand was poised on the lid of a pot he had just opened. Why was he there and what was he doing opening the pot? The archaeologists wonder whether he might have been an opportunistic thief – giving a new meaning to the phrase ‘caught red handed’!

Nadia Durrani reporting.

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