A Foodie’s Feast in Ancient Pompeii

By: The Scribe on Monday, January 6, 2014

pompeii imageWhen people think of Pompeii, it’s often to conjure up images of violent destruction, or to ponder the fragility of life as so visibly showcased by the remains of Pompeiians who were caught by the wrath of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

But there was much more to this town than just its end, and for the past ten years, archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati have excavated a row of building plots located in the non-elite district of the city.

Some of these building plots—which represent a total of 20 store fronts near the Portia Stabia—date as far back as the 6th-century B.C.

The archaeologists learned that these store fronts were mostly restaurants, and researchers were able to take the finds of preserved, mineralized and charred food contents (found in drains and toilets… don’t think about that too hard) in order to analyze it.

The findings were surprising, because it was previously thought that the non-elites of Pompeii were more or less a “mass of hapless lemmings – scrounging for whatever they can pinch from the side of a street, or huddled around a bowl of gruel”, said Steve Ellis (University of Cincinnati Associate Professor of Classics), presenting the findings at the Archaeological Institute of America Annual Conference in Chicago on January 4th. This traditional vision “needs to be replaced by a higher fare and standard of living, at least for the urbanites in Pompeii.”

pompeii snackWhile archaeologists did find food remnants that would have been standard, inexpensive fare in ancient Italy (ie. grains, fruit, olives, fish, lentils, eggs, and nuts), they also discovered that ancient Pompeiians enjoyed a wide variety of exotic dishes featuring imported fare from outside of Italy.

It’s a foodie’s dream: sea urchins, shellfish, flamingos, and the team even uncovered a giraffe’s butchered leg joint (which is the first giraffe bone found in ancient Roman Italy).


Ellis commented on the giraffe bone, saying, “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 archaeological team also found traces imported, exotic spices from far away regions such as Indonesia.

From the Archives: How Greenland Got Its Name

By: The Scribe on Friday, December 13, 2013

In December 2010, our Scribe revealed some history about the island of Greenland. How did it get its name? And why call Greenland “green,” when it’s clearly full of ice?

Naturally, the story involves Vikings—and a possible misunderstanding between languages!

Follow this link to read How Greenland Got Its Name.


Fun Bonus Fact: Scientists have estimated that the ice sheet that covers Greenland is between 400,000-800,000 years old! It covers approximately 80% of the island, and is about 3 kilometers thick in places… so the ancient settlers to the island probably didn’t see much difference in appearance or terrain from what we see today.

From the Archives: The Mayan Military

By: The Scribe on Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In March 2007, we very briefly introduced readers to the basics of the Mayan military, or at least what was known at the time.

New archaeological discoveries are always being made and challenging previous assumptions—for example, just last year, archaeologists discovered the tomb of a Mayan warrior queen: Lady K’abel, a 7th-century Maya Holy Snake Lord.

Today, here’s the link to revisit The Mayan Military (ca. 300-900 AD)!

maya military

Fun Bonus Fact: Sometimes, the Mayans timed certain military campaigns to coincide with celestial events!

From the Archives: A Brief History of Toilet Paper

By: The Scribe on Monday, December 9, 2013

In 2007, the Ancient Standard put together a brief history of an important household item we take for granted… toilet paper!

The funny thing is, toilet paper isn’t a daily item everywhere in the world – it’s really something that’s more common to “First World” countries, instead of simply washing up after “doing one’s business.”

Which is more sanitary? We’ll leave that up to you!

Follow this link to revisit The Dirty Truth — A Brief History of Toilet Paper (6th-Century AD and onward… hopefully)!

ancient toilet paper


Fun bonus fact: In Japan, a handmade paper called washi is often used in disposable paper products. It’s made up of water and paper-mulberry, and is a softening agent for Japanese toilet paper. The papermaking technique for washi was introduced into Japan in the Kamakura Period (1192-1333)!

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