Ancient Roman ingredients still seen on modern-day menus in Rome

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 November, 2014, 6:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 November, 2014, 6:05am


Archaeologists picking through latrines, sewers, cesspits and rubbish dumps at Pompeii and Herculaneum have found tantalising clues to an apparently varied diet there before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed those Roman cities in 79AD.

Much of what residents didn't digest or left on their plates went down into latrine holes, became remnants in cesspits built up over the centuries or was thrown away in local dumps. At a three-day conference last week in Rome, archaeologists discussed their discoveries, including gnawed-on fish bones and goose-egg shells that were possibly ancient delicacies for the elite.

Much of what the inhabitants ate was local. Archaeologists noted that some types of mollusc shells found in the sewers of Herculaneum came from the ancient town's beach. Notable exceptions include grain, which was likely imported from Egypt; dates from the Middle East and northern Africa; and pepper spice from India. Although flour left no traces across such a long time, grain weevils apparently survived the milling process, ending up in a Herculaneum sewer that served a block of shops and home.

Today's Romans are big on pork - pork slices known as porchetta are a popular filling for lunchtime sandwiches. Rubbish dumps from roughly the 1st century BC and the early 1st century AD in the Pompeii neighbourhood of Porta Stabia yielded an abundance of pig bones, a sure sign that pork was popular then, noted Michael MacKinnon from the University of Winnipeg. Particularly tasty molluscs known as telline were popular on ancient tables; telline as an ingredient for a seafood sauce is much sought after on today's Roman menus.