Excavation in Pompeii reveals ancient food habits

Remnants of ancient snacks recovered at a recently-unearthed fast food counter or thermopolium provide a fascinating glimpse into food habits of the time.

Fast food has been in vogue for millennia, as recent findings by archaeologists have revealed. Excavations at the site of the ancient city of Pompeii, that started back in 2019, and were only recently completed, have unearthed one of the best-preserved examples of thermopoliums or ancient Roman snack bars.

This is the first time that such a structure has been found in a well-preserved state, providing useful clues to ancient food habits.
Photo © Luigi Spina/Archaeological Park of Pompeii

Archaeologists, scientists and historians have long known about the existence of these ancient snack bars but it was only with this new excavation that such a structure was unearthed in its entirety. Alongside the structure, several fossils and remnants of organic matter, have also been discovered, many of which provide useful clues to the food habits of the time.

The counter is decorated with frescoes of mythical figures and has grooves on top which contained embedded terracotta jars or dolia. Remnants of duck bone at the site and frescoes of mallard ducks and roosters on the counter point to possible items on the menu. Some of the jars were used to store pork, fish and possibly a stew made of snails, fish and sheep. Grain and alcohol were also likely items served, as indicated by the recovered remnants.

Delving into the story of food is indeed one of the best ways to understand human history itself. Based on the kind of food consumed popularly, scientists can deduce a great deal about civilisations. From agricultural practices and trading habits to social as well as economic structures, food habits of a society reflect many of its characteristics.

Work on this newly discovered thermopolium is expected to conclude in March, and once the COVID restrictions allow, the site will be opened to visitors.

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