Ancient Snack Bar Uncovered in Pompeii

If in 1,900 years archaeologists find a hot dog stand, we have to wonder what they’ll make of it. Will they be as impressed with the artwork that adorns that walls as we are are with the frescoes on the ancient snack bar recently-uncovered at Pompeii? The entire city was smothered under a layer of hot ash in 70 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted, killing everyone who didn’t escape in time. Over the years and little by little many aspects of the city have been uncovered, many well-preserved thanks to being covered in ash, including this colorful food stall.

The snack bar was partially uncovered in 2019, with full excavations completed in 2020. The food stall, known as The Thermopolium of Regio V, is decorated with a variety of frescoes, including one of a sea nymph riding a mythological sea horse that resembles a half horse-half fish.

The beautiful full-color frescoes also depict dogs, men cooking, amphora (pottery jars for sauces and wine), as well as a live rooster and some freshly-killed poultry. The counter where food was served has circular holes where pots were once placed.

These pots were kept warm so that when customers came to eat they’d get a hot meal, hence the term thermopolium, which means “place where hot food is sold”. These street food treats would have been easy to eat quickly in the stall or while walking, much like today’s street food (though without the plastic and paper wrappers).

At the site archaeologists for the Archaeological Park of Pompeii also found traces of food, which give clues as to what the residents of Pompeii were eating at that moment in time. Residue of both wine and beans was found at the food stall. Based on residues found on site other menu items were goat, pork, fish, and snails.

Near the top of the fresco of the dog researchers found some graffiti, possibly placed there by an employee, shaming the dog for defecating at will. The skeleton of a small dog was also found at the site, leading one to imagine a little black dog functioning much like bodega cats today, although not apparently beloved by everyone.

The bones of two humans were also found on site, one of which may have been in a bed at the time of their death. Archaeologists think there was a bed in the restaurant since there were nails and fragments of wood found under the human remains. This individual was likely over the age of 50.

The other human remains were found inside a dolium – a large ceramic pot. Researchers believe the bones may have been placed inside the pot by illegal excavators as far back as the 1600s, though it remains unclear why.

Massimo Osanna, Interim Director General of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, said in a statement that, “As well as being another insight into daily life at Pompeii, the possibilities for study of this Thermopolium are exceptional, because for the first time an area of this type has been excavated in its entirety, and it has been possible to carry out all the analyses that today’s technology permits. The materials which have been discovered have indeed been excavated and studied from all points of view by an interdisciplinary team composed of professionals in the fields of physical anthropology, archaeology, archaeobotany, archaeology, geology and vulcanology. The finds will be further analyzed in the laboratory, and in particular those remains found in the dolia (terra cotta containers) of the counter are expected to yield exceptional data for informing an understanding of what was sold and what the diet was like.”

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