Archeologists in Italy are learning more and more about the everyday life of the people who lived in Pompeii nearly 2,000 years ago. Most recently, they’ve carefully uncovered a well-preserved street snack bar.
Pompeii is an ancient city that’s famous for being suddenly buried in the year 79 by the nearby volcano, Vesuvius. Though thousands of people escaped, over 1,100 people were killed almost instantly by the extreme heat. They were quickly covered by small rocks, ash, and dust from the volcano.
People began excavating (carefully digging out) Pompeii in the mid-1700s. Over the years, scientists have discovered more and more about the life of these people who were sadly frozen in time.
Archeologists have discovered theaters, swimming pools, gyms, hospitals, and many different kinds of stores. They’ve also found restaurants, including about 80 “fast food” restaurants called thermopolia, which served hot food and drinks to people on the streets.
In 2019, archeologists working for the Archeological Park of Pompeii announced that they were working to excavate a well-preserved thermopolium. Because the restaurant was in such great shape, they decided to excavate the whole area.
“This is an extraordinary find,” said the director of the archeological park. “It’s the first time we are excavating an entire thermopolium.”
A thermopolium has a long, low counter with lots of clay pots built into it to hold the food and drinks. What was special about this one was that even the pictures on counter walls were in almost perfect condition, almost exactly the way people would have seen them years ago.
Some of the paintings on the wall show ducks and roosters – examples of food served at the snack bar. They even found a duck bone in the restaurant.
The scientists discovered many large clay jars, which held food and drinks. Two jars held fish and pork (pig meat). Scientists also found a mixture of snails, fish, and sheep, which they believe may have been some sort of soup.
At least one of the jars held wine. “It was so strong we could smell it through our masks,” said one of the archeologists. The scientists expect to learn even more after the contents of all the jars are studied carefully in the laboratory.
One of the paintings on the counter wall shows a dog on a leash. The scientists were surprised to find an insulting message scratched into the frame around the painting. They think it may have been a joke played on the owner of the snack bar.
The archeologists also found the skeleton of a small dog, as well as the bones of at least two people. One of the people was a man who was about 50 years old. He appeared to have been asleep when he was killed by the volcano.
The archeologists say they are really only just beginning to understand all that they can learn from this thermopolium. Because the site was so complete, they expect it to reveal many more of the hidden secrets of Pompeii.
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