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Archeologists just found 2,000-year-old fast food beneath a volcano5 min read

January 7, 2021 4 min read


Archeologists just found 2,000-year-old fast food beneath a volcano5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

2,000 years ago, around 79AD, Pompeii stopped. Mt. Vesuvius, a massive volcanic mountain near the city, erupted and covered Pompeii its people in hot volcanic ash. Everything and everyone was instantly lifeless. But, thanks to the lapilli or hot ash and rock that engulfed the city, it was preserved forever.

Mt. Vesuvius Image: History.com

Before its untimely demise, Pompeii was a bustling Roman city at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. It was a cultural hub that bubbled with political and social activities. Although its ruins were discovered a few hundred years ago, a lot of the city is yet to be uncovered and discovered. With every new discovery, Pompeii remains a marvel.

Pompeii: bakery
A bakery in Pompeii Image: Britannica

Since its reintroduction, Pompeii has been well preserved. It is very popular with scholars and tourists alike who flock there in the thousands. Over the years, we have discovered vistas, halls, temples, art, and the bodies of all kinds of people and animals, among a myriad of other relics. Most recently, archeologists made one of the most significant discoveries that they have made in a while.

The Thermopolium

The shop owner would display hot food in terra cotta jars into the holes along the countertop.
The Thermopolium Image: Business Insider

Over the years, among the fragments of discoveries, archeologists have found over 80 snack bars. These snack bars known as thermopoliums are a distinct and unique feature of Pompeii. Archeologists have likened them to fast food joints like today’s McDonald’s and Burger King.

A fresco of Nereid, the mythological sea nymph, riding a sea horse on a counter in the thermopolium.
A painting of Nereid, a mythological sea nymph, on a food serving counter in the thermopolium. Image: The Archeological Park of Pompeii

Thermopolium translates to a “place where hot is sold.” It is where working-class locals who didn’t have kitchens would go to get hot soup and food. In fact, archeologists even suggest that these cheaper joints were probably looked down upon by the wealthier people of Pompeii.

Even though several have been found, this is the first time that a thermopolium was almost completely uncovered. Moreover, with modern technology, there is so much more that we can learn from our findings.

The counter has frescoes that remained intact, showing some animals that were served, including chicken and ducks, like a modern menu with pictures today.
A painting of chicken and ducks on one of the external walls of the Thermopolium. Image: Business Insider

Steaming hot, mouth-watering delicacies

The exterior of the thermopolium was resplendent with intricate paintings. It even had paintings of ducks and chickens that experts deem to be much like a modern menu. Archeologists are quite certain that these were some of the items items were sold at the snack bar. Other than that they found jars and containers with remains of beef, fish, snails, and sheep. It was most likely that the thermopoliums served a mix of all these meats. Just imagine a mouth-watering warm soup filled with meat after a long day at work. In fact, much like fast-food, most of the food was composed of quick eats that could be eaten on the go.

The shop owner would display hot food in terra cotta jars into the holes along the countertop.
Hot food would be displayed in these holes on the counter. In fact, they are similar to the salad bars and buffets that we are familiar with. Image: Business Insider

Some things never change

Even though their menu is very different from anything we eat today, a lot of what was found in and around the thermopolium is not unfamiliar. Archeologists found a large pot that was once filled with wine. They have claimed that once they cleared the large pot, or dolium, of the surrounding lapilli, they could smell the wine through their masks! There were even several remains and skeletons of people hovering around the eatery, suggesting an environment not very different from our own hawkers and fast food joints.

Archaeologists found human remains at the site, indicating that people were there when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Other remains may have been moved or placed by earlier excavators.
The human remains at the eatery suggest that people were living their best lives and eating to their heart’s contents when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Image: Business Insider

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: Take a look at this picture of a dog on a leash painted on the walls of the eatery. This probably was a sign for the ancient roman customers to keep their dogs tethered while they eat! Well, if one thing is both universal and timeless, it is our love for our pet dogs.

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