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Pompeii Sewers Reveal How Romans Lived and Dined

Archaeologists picking through latrines, sewers, cesspits and trash dumps at Pompeii and Herculaneum have found tantalizing clues to an apparently varied diet there before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed those Roman cities in the year 79. 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 ending Friday in Rome, archaeologists discussed their discoveries, including gnawed-on fish bones and goose eggshells that were possibly ancient delicacies for the elite.

Among the curiosities:

  • Eating local? Some types of mollusk shells that were found in the sewers of Herculaneum came from the ancient town's beach. But the refuse also included grain that was probably imported from Egypt; dates from the Middle East and northern Africa; and pepper spice from India.
  • Pork on the menu: Trash dumps from the first century B.C. and the early first century in the Pompeii neighborhood of Porta Stabia yielded an abundance of pig bones, a sure sign that pork was popular then.
  • Divine hors d'oeuvres: Bite-sized, carbonized cakelike breads were discovered at a disused kiln in Pompeii. Pieces of votive cups were also found, suggesting that the nibbles might have been offerings to the gods.
Ancient Pompeii Crumbles Before Our Eyes 1:48

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— The Associated Press