One of the 2020 holiday season’s most surprising holiday gifts is an unexpected glimpse into the past.
Archaeologists working to uncover ancient Rome’s lost city of Pompeii made a stunning find at the “Regio V” dig site: A largely intact thermopolium, or what is essentially a street food stand. Complete with elaborate frescos, graffiti scrawls, traces of ancient food, and human remains.
It’s been described as quite a find. Archaeological discoveries don’t often pop with as much vibrant color and detail as you see here, and the fact that most of the stand remains intact makes the discovery that much more exciting.
“As well as being another insight into the daily life at Pompeii, the possibilities for study of this Thermopolium are exceptional, because for the first time an area of this type has been excavated in its entirety, and it has been possible to carry out all the analyses that today’s technology permits.”
That’s Massimo Osanna, interim director generation of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, in a statement shared on the Pompeii Sites website that tracks ongoing efforts to investigate the ancient city. Osanna added that further investigation of food containers found with the stand “are expected to yield exceptional data for informing an understanding of what was sold and what the diet was like.”
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the history here, the ancient city of Pompeii was destroyed following the eruption of the Mount Vesuvius volcano in roughly 79 AD. The city was completely buried beneath 10 to 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice. There was a not-very-good movie about it in 2014.
A full view of the food stand. You can clearly see in this pulled out perspective just how much remains intact. That’s why this is considered such an exciting find.
The above fresco was the first glimpse that anyone got of the food stand after it was partially uncovered in 2019. The image depicts a sea nymph, or Nereid, of Greek myth riding atop a stylized sea horse and carrying a golden lyre.
This pair of impressively detailed images may have been meant to advertise the food available for purchase. The image on the left is a pair of upside-down mallards, prepped for cooking. The one on the right depicts a rooster with impressively detailed plumage.
The above fresco of a dog on a leash is accompanied by some graffiti scrawled into the surrounding frame (not visible here). The text reads “nicia cinaede cacator,” which hilariously translates to “Nicias shameless shitter!” The Pompeii Sites article on the find speculates that the graffiti was left by a “prankster” who was making fun of someone who worked at the shop, perhaps the owner, named Nicias.
The larger image here, which appears just to the left of the Nereid fresco, is believed to be a picture of the shop itself, “like a kind of trademark.”
In this glimpse behind the counter we see an archaeologist at work looking into one of the openings where hot food was likely kept. The unearthing of the food stand also included the discovery of multiple containers that were likely used to store food and drink.
Regio V is a significant site for archaeological research in the remains of Pompeii. If you’d like a fuller look at the site, this drone tour released in April 2020 (and narrated by Osanna) gives you an up-close peek. The newly unearthed food stand is expected to open for public viewing around Easter 2021.