Posts Tagged ‘Roman’

By Andrew CurryAug. 25, 2021

Original article in sciencemag.org

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Herculaneum was covered by Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 C.E., but unlike Pompeii, many human remains there were well preserved.

Almost 2000 years ago, a volcanic eruption buried the seaside Roman town of Herculaneum in the same rush of hot ash and gas that decimated Pompeii. The catastrophe didn’t just preserve buildings and bones—it saved clues to the Roman diet. A new analysis of the bones of 17 victims reveals what these ancient villagers were eating, and in what proportions. Residents scarfed a lot of seafood and olive oil, confirming historians’ estimates that average Romans consumed 20 liters (more than 5 gallons) of the oil each year.

Previous studies have only given broad outlines, not the nitty-gritty details, of the ancient Roman diet, says Erica Rowan, an archaeobotanist at the Royal Holloway University of London who was not involved with the new work. “Here they do a good job” of filling in those details.

In 79 C.E., in a desperate attempt to escape the impact of the Mount Vesuvius eruption, the people of Herculaneum huddled in boathouses along the town’s waterfront, situated on the west coast of central Italy. But a sudden blast of 250°C ash and gas killed them instantly, cooking their flesh while preserving their bones almost perfectly.

In previous work, scientists analyzed the collagen in those bones to conclude that men at Herculaneum had a more diverse diet than women. In the new study, researchers isolated specific amino acids—the building blocks of proteins—from the collagen, and determined the ratios of varieties, or isotopes, of nitrogen and carbon atoms. Those isotopes can be traced to specific foods.

Thanks to the remains of plants and animals found at the site, archaeologists know the people of Herculaneum ate grains such as wheat and millet. They also consumed lentils, beans, cherries, peaches, and olives, plus 70 kinds of fish and shellfish from the Bay of Naples. But the proportions remained a mystery.

Using the new method, “We can tell where their calories were coming from,” says study co-author Oliver Craig, an archaeologist at the University of York. “We were able to see foodstuffs we’re usually not able to see because they’re not proteins.”

The analysis held some shocks: People at Herculaneum ate a lot of seafood, especially compared with humans in the Mediterranean region today. Approximately one-quarter of their protein was netted from the nearby sea, nearly triple the amount in the modern Mediterranean diet, the team reports today in Science Advances. “We haven’t been able to see that before in regular isotopic analysis,” Rowan says.

Olive oil was also a big hit. It made up at least 12% of calories consumed at Herculaneum, and perhaps much more. The find supports historical sources indicating the average Roman consumed 20 liters of oil each year, and that the oil was one of the most significant fat sources in the Roman diet. Olives were grown widely all across the Roman Empire, providing ample supplies. “Oil wasn’t a condiment, it was a proper ingredient,” says co-author Silvia Soncin, an archaeologist at Sapienza University of Rome. “They got a lot of energy out of it.”

The women of Herculaneum also ate fewer grains and cereals than did the men. Herculaneum’s men, meanwhile, seemed to down more fish and shellfish. Soncin and Craig suggest men’s varied diets might be a sign that they spent more time outside of the house.

The scientists acknowledge that the Herculaneum diet may not be representative of ancient Rome as a whole. It’s possible the people of the town—situated on the rich Bay of Naples, surrounded by fertile volcanic soil, and near a major port importing goods from across the Mediterranean—had an especially diverse diet.

Still, Rowan says, the approach could shed light on other ancient diets across the globe. “If they could use the same methods at different sites, it would be really interesting.”


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On this day ten years ago…
via Ancient wrecks found off Italy’ west coast

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A few days late.original post Jun2, 2010
via Ancient Roman gluten death seen

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via Wine Lover’s Guide to Ancient Britain

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Work in the Ashkelon excavation (Anat Rasiuk, Israel Antiquities Authority)


Although a staple of the Roman Empire, very few garum production sites or cetariae have been found in the Eastern Mediterranean

A small 1st century factory that produced fermented fish sauce — arguably the most desirable foodstuff of the Roman era — was recently uncovered during excavations near the southern coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon. It is one of the only identified industrial sites for production of the ubiquitous odorous sauce that has been found in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“We have something really unusual here,” Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini told The Times of Israel on Monday when the find was announced.

While the idea of fermented fish sauce or garum may not spark salivation in modern palates, the slimy stuff was considered one of the most delicious flavors of the Roman Empire. According to Erickson-Gini, the precious goop added both salty and savory flavors to food and was used in the vast majority of recipes known from the era.

“I think of it as a condiment, but it went well beyond that,” Erickson-Gini said. “It’s hard for us to imagine. It was far more common than ketchup.”

At the 2,000-year-old site, located two kilometers (a mile and a quarter) northwest of the city of Ashkelon, Erickson-Gini’s team uncovered several installations that, when taken together, left the archaeologist with little doubt that she was looking at a rare Holy Land garum production center, or cetaria, she said. Though there are few examples in the eastern Mediterranean, she said that in the Iberian Peninsula, specifically Malaga, there are several installations that mirror what she has uncovered in Ashkelon.

The Ashkelon site was excavated ahead of the construction of an Eco-Sport Park. Local pupils and youth aided in the excavation, which was underwritten by the Municipality of Ashkelon and the Ashkelon Economic Co.

In addition to evidence of fish pools, the team uncovered giant plastered vats, jars used for storing liquid, and what appears to be a large receptacle to hold the strained goopy substance.

While fish pools have been found elsewhere in the region, there is only one other identified location in Israel that may possibly have produced the garum, at Dor, said Erickson-Gini. According to what has so far been excavated, the Ashkelon site was not a major factory, and was possibly largely for local use.

The paucity of production sites had always surprised and puzzled the archaeologist, she said. Throughout the Empire, the sauce graced the tables of the Roman world’s rich and famous, as well as the troughs of commoners.

“What interests me is the fact that this product was very, very popular in the Roman and Byzantine period. As popular as it was, you’d expect to find a lot of installations. I’m shocked we haven’t found more of them in excavations,” she said.

Roman historian Pliny the Elder mentions the sauce throughout his “Natural History,” both as a foodstuff and as medicine. According to a recent National Geographic article on garum, Pliny “extols garum as a cure for dysentery and an effective treatment for dog bites. Pliny also recommended it for earaches, and believed that consuming African snails marinated in garum would ward off stomach troubles.”

The National Geographic article states that the sauce was considered so essential to the Roman diet “that a huge network of trade routes grew up to move the prized relish from fishery to plate. Like many delicacies today, the finest garum could sell for astronomical sums.”

Even in the storerooms of 1st century BCE King Herod’s isolated Masada palace, a rare labeled amphorae of garum was found that was possibly imported from Andalusia.

The secret’s in the sauce

The production of the malodorous sauce must have been a stomach-roiling business. In later periods, due to its powerful reek, laws were legislated that the prized fermented fish “ketchup” must be produced outside of urban centers.

To accomplish its pungent putrefaction, the craftsman would place whole small fish such as sardines or anchovies, or chopped up larger fish such as tuna or mackerel, at the base of a jar and pour on top of it spices and salt, followed by another fish layer, etc. According to Erickson-Gini, the recipe’s ratio called for five parts fish to one part salt.

A lively video, “Garum, Rome’s Favorite Condiment (Ancient Cooking),” on the Invicta History YouTube channel, said the concoction inside a closed jar would bake in the hot Mediterranean sun for a week as the fish deteriorated, but was saved from rot by the salt. It was then opened and stirred for another 20 days or more (Erickson-Gini suggested up to three months).

The resultant “puree of fish goop” was strained through a basket, and the strained liquid is the garum. Other, more solid leftovers could be made into a different sauce or lesser-regarded fish paste called allec.

There are several types of garum, and even a strictly kosher version called garum castimonarium that was guaranteed to be made from kosher fish, not shellfish.

Foodie fashion fades

The height of the garum fad was circa the 2nd century CE, but its use is recorded even much later.

According to an IAA press release, the Ashkelon production site was abandoned and industry in the area turned to viticulture.

Erickson-Gini said that even during the time of the garum production, there is evidence of wine presses and storage jars located only meters away. Later, circa 5th century in the Byzantine period a thriving monastic community produced wine.

Although there are scant artifacts from the central elaborately decorated church, three winepresses were built nearby, as well as a large kiln complex that would have produced jars to export the wine all over the Byzantine Empire. “Jars were found as far as England and Germany and Yemen,” said Erickson-Gini.

Later, the site was abandoned in circa the 7th century after the Islamic conquest. According to Erickson-Gini and evidence she found in refuse pits containing the bones of large pack animals, “nomadic families, probably residing in tents, dismantled the structures and sold the different parts for building material elsewhere.”

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The amphorae are in excellent condition.
Ionian Aquarium, Kefalonia


By Julia Buckley,


Two thousand years ago, this ship was crossing the Mediterranean Sea full of its cargo of amphorae — large terracotta pots that were used in the Roman Empire for transporting wine and olive oil.

For some reason, it never made it to its destination.

But having languished at the bottom of the sea for around two millennia, it has now been rediscovered by archeologists, along with its cargo, and dated to between 100 BCE and 100 CE. And it has already been judged to be the largest classical shipwreck found in the eastern Mediterranean.

The wreck of the 110-foot (35-meter) ship, along with its cargo of 6,000 amphorae, was discovered at a depth of around 60m (197 feet) during a sonar-equipped survey of the seabed off the coast of Kefalonia — one of the Ionian islands off the west coast of Greece.

The survey was carried out by the Oceanus network of the University of Patras, using artificial intelligence image-processing techniques. The research was funded by the European Union Interreg program.

The site had previously been earmarked by archeologists from the Greek Department of Underwater Archaeology, the Norwegian Institute in Athens, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
It is the fourth largest shipwreck from the period ever found in the entire Mediterranean and is of “significant archaeological importance,” according to George Ferentinos from the University of Patras, who along with nine of his fellow academics has unveiled the discovery in the Journal of Archeological Science.

“The amphorae cargo, visible on the seafloor, is in very good state of preservation and the shipwreck has the potential to yield a wealth of information about the shipping routes, trading, amphorae hull stowage and ship construction during the relevant period,” they wrote.

Most ships of that era were around 50 feet long, compared to this one’s 110 feet.

The boat — a reproduction of which currently sits at the Ionian Aquarium in Kefalonia (main image) — is the fourth Roman wreck to be found in the area. Classical-era shipwrecks are difficult to discern with sonar, as they sit close to the seabed and can often be hidden by natural features. The cargo hold is wedged six feet underground.

It lies about 1.5 miles from the entrance to the harbor of Fiskardo — the island’s only village to not be destroyed in World War II. The archaeologists think that the discovery indicates that Fiskardo was an important stop on Roman trading routes.

The survey, carried out in 2013 and 2014, also picked up three “almost intact” wrecks from World War II in the area.

But it’s the size of the cargo — 98 feet by 39 feet — and the intact amphorae which has excited the archaeologists.

The high resolution sonar images picked up the mass of jugs on the sea floor, filling out the shape of the wooden ship frame.

“Further study of the wreck would shed light on sea-routes, trading, amphorae hull stowage and shipbuilding in the period between 1st century BC and 1st century AD,” the scholars wrote in the journal.

The only remaining problem: what to do with the wreck.

Ferentinos told CNN that retrieving it is a “very difficult and costly job.” Instead, their next step is a cheaper one — “to recover an amphora and using DNA techniques to find whether it was filled with wine, olive oil, nuts, wheat or barley.”

They will then seek an investor to plan a diving park for the wreck.

In the meantime, the Ionian Aquarium museum in Lixouri, Kefalonia’s second largest town, holds other treasures from the waters around the island.

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Source: Where’s the Beef? – Archaeology Magazine

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On this day ten years ago…
via Ancient Romans Preferred Fast Food

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The remains of a high-quality Romano-British butcher’s business and centre for crafts have been unearthed by archaeologists in Devon. Photograph: Handout

The guardian.com
By Steven Morris

The remains of a high-quality Romano-British butcher’s business and centre for crafts have been unearthed by archaeologists in Devon.

Experts believe the fourth-century abattoir was set up to prepare the best cuts of beef that were transported to customers miles away along a Roman road found at the site.

They suggest the butchers at Ipplepen, near Newton Abbot in south Devon, worked alongside a string of talented craftspeople specialising in deer antler, leather and textiles.

Previous digs at Ipplepen have unearthed Roman coins, a stretch of Roman road and the remnants of vessels from France and the Mediterranean once full of wine, olive oil and garum – fish sauce.

The site is significant because it has undermined the notion that ancient Rome’s influence had not stretched further south-west in the British Isles than Exeter, 20 miles to the north of Ipplepen.

During the latest dig, the focus has been on a spot away from what is thought to be the centre of the Ipplepen settlement. They did not find scraps of pottery that suggest homes but a ditch full of 1,700-year-old cattle bones.

The remains are mostly just the heads and feet of cattle – analysis suggests that cattle were raised locally and butchered when they were at the prime age for producing high-quality beef.

Prof Stephen Rippon, from the University of Exeter, who is leading the archaeological work, said that if the cattle had been raised and slaughtered by peasant farmers nothing would have been left of them.

“They would have boiled down the bits that have been thrown away and made something like brawn out of them,” he said.

The age of the animals is another big clue. “The normal practice would have been to keep the cattle into old age, pulling ploughs and so on. Our cattle were one and a half to two years old – which fits in with the idea of this being professional beef production.

“We think they were preparing good meat joints and perhaps storing them in barrels of salted water and taking them somewhere else. This is the first time we have found evidence of commercial farming and butchery in the south-west of Britain.

“They would have been taken to market somewhere along the major Roman road we have found here. It is really rare to get animal bones preserved on rural archaeological sites in the south-west as its acidic soils normally dissolve the bones.”

The team also came upon a piece of sawn deer antler, possibly used for making objects such as awls, needles, combs and hairpins. This is the first time that evidence for Romano-British bone or antler working has been discovered in Devon outside of Exeter.

Waste from the smithing of iron found during the excavation indicates that there was a blacksmith’s forge nearby, while the discovery of a stone weight may have been used in the weaving of textiles. Though no direct evidence was found, Rippon believes the cattle hides would have been turned into leather at the site.

“This all builds up a picture of Ipplepen as a settlement that is not a normal farming community but a place where craftsmen are making all sorts of things,” he said.

National Lottery funding has allowed the University of Exeter to expand its work with local communities at Ipplepen. This year, the excavation is playing host to 40 local volunteers, pupils from Ipplepen primary school, and members of the Somerset and Torbay Young Archaeologists’ Clubs.



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