Archaeologists discover ornate ancient food stand in Pompeii

Archaeologists have uncovered a 2,000-year-old street stall adorned with painted gastronomical delights in Pompeii. Hidden under solidified volcanic ash since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the stall provides a glimpse into the daily lives of the ancient Pompeiian people.  

The frescoed Thermopolium, a very popular type of fast food stand in the Roman world, is the first to be excavated in its entirety. Pompeii alone had at least 80 Thermopolia before Vesuvius’ devastating eruption in 79 AD, which killed between 2,000 and 15,000 people. 

Excavation of the food stand began in 2019 at the location of the once bustling intersection between Silver Wedding Street and the Alley of Balconies. Its vibrant yellow background and polychromatic still life scenes remain almost completely intact, despite the surrounding debris.    

According to the Pompeii Archaeological Park, “the first laboratory analyses confirm that the paintings on the counter depict, at least in part, the foodstuffs and drinks which were actually sold inside the Thermopolium.” 

This includes two mallard ducks ready to be cooked and a rooster. Duck bone fragments were in fact found inside one of the earthenware containers from the stand, alongside a wide variety of other animal products. Massimo Osanna, director general at the Pompeii Archaeological Park, said the discovery “provided truly extraordinary evidence of the Mediterranean diet”. 

On the other side of the stand are images of a horse-riding nymph and a collection of gold and silver vessels. A mocking inscription was also found scratched into the surface of the fresco, presumably much to the dismay of the owner, stating in Latin “Nicias (probably a freedman from Greece) Shameless Defecator!”. 

The stand offers an insight into the final hours of its workers’ lives too. A number of human bones were unearthed inside the Thermopolium, as well as the complete skeleton of a very small pet dog by the entrance. “The counter seems to have been closed in a hurry and abandoned by its owners but it is possible that someone, perhaps the oldest man, stayed behind and perished during the first phase of the eruption,” explained Osanna. Interdisciplinary researchers will further analyse the collected finds at several universities partnered with Pompeii Archaeological Park, which commented “this is merely the initial macroscopic data yielded by the ongoing excavation, but it will surely not be the last.” 

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