Exotic Diet Of A Common Pompeian Included Giraffe

By Ajit Jha on January 4, 2014 4:56 PM EST

Pompeii
When most people think about ancient middle and lower class eating habits, exotic foods such as imported fish might not come to mind. But the common Pompeian ate this, and much more. (Photo: CarolynConnor, CC BY 2.0)

The image of Pompeii brings forth visions of a devastating end for mankind; not of an empire's bustling seaside metropolis. Scientists are still uncovering many of the remains from the ancient ruins, and have recently discovered evidence of the eating habits of the city's middle and lower classes.

A team of archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati has been exploring the remains of Pompeii since 2005, and trying to piece together a picture of how it looked historic before the volcanic eruption, as far back as the 6th century B.C. The team began exploring a long-neglected area of one of Pompeii's busiest gates, the Porta Stabia. The area once housed 20 different shops that probably served food and drink. Their remains, which are available in kitchens, pits, drains, and latrines, revealed some evidence of the diets of the ancient dwellers of the ruined city, according to a press release.

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The consumption pattern of the ancient Pompeian is pretty close to what was expected, however, there were some shocking revelations. They mainly consumed grains, olives, nuts, fruits, fish, lentils, eggs, and butchered meat - typical for the region.

But the team also found evidence of more exotic fare, such as salted fish that might have been imported from Spain. The team also discovered evidence of shellfish, not native to Italy, from a drain in the center of the plot; sea urchin, found as a mineralized remnant; and most surprisingly, a butchered leg joint from a giraffe. "That the bone represents the height of exotic food".

"That the bone represents the height of exotic food is underscored by the fact that this is thought to be the only giraffe bone ever recorded from an archaeological excavation in Roman Italy," Ellis said in the statement. "How part of the animal, butchered, came to be a kitchen scrap in a seemingly standard Pompeian restaurant not only speaks to long-distance trade in exotic and wild animals, but also something of the richness, variety, and range of a non-elite diet."

The presence of the giraffe bone in the middle of Pompeii led Ellis to speculate that there was long-distance Roman trade in exotic and wild animals, some of which eventually found their way into Pompeian restaurants. In addition, the discovery also reveals "richness, variety, and range of a non-elite diet." 

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