Recent excavations in the Regio V district of Pompeii have unearthed a well-preserved Roman thermopolium – a hot-food shop – in its entirety. The counter, with a painting of a Nereid (a sea nymph) riding on a seahorse was partially excavated in 2019 as part of the Great Pompeii Project. The excavation was then extended to enable archaeologists to uncover the whole thermopolium, revealing more paintings, as well as the vestiges of food and drink served at the shop.
The other exceptional paintings on the counter include a small image of a shop with a counter and amphorae; a still life scene with a pair of dead mallard ducks and a rooster, reflecting the food that would have been served; and a dog on a lead, with graffiti scratched on to its black frame.
There are about 80 thermopolia known at Pompeii, which was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. These establishments were an important part of daily life, as it was here that most Pompeiians typically ate their meals. Remains of pigs, goats, fish, and snails have been recovered from the large storage jars (dolia) set into the counter, and, as suggested by the two mallards in the painting, duck appears to have been on the menu too, with one duck bone fragment found. As Valeria Amoretti, an anthropologist at the site, explained, one dolium for wine contained ground-up broad beans, which the culinary writer Apicius notes in his De re coquinaria could be used to alter the taste and colour of wine.
Looters searching for artefacts in earlier centuries had dug tunnels through the site, disturbing human remains at the thermopolium. The archaeologists recently excavating the shop identified the bones of one person at least 50 years of age. The individual was probably on some type of bed: nails and wood residue were found beneath the body. They also found several bones of another individual inside a large dolium, probably placed there by the early excavators.
These remains and finds from the thermopolium will be analysed further in the future, potentially revealing new details about the people who died in the property as well as about food in Pompeii.
Elsewhere in the ancient city, the Antiquarium opened in January after extensive refurbishment. This museum has been reconfigured as a permanent display of significant finds that introduce the history of Pompeii from the Samnite period (4th century BC) up to the fatal eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, before visitors explore the site outside. As well as famous finds from the site, such as the vibrant frescoes from the House of the Golden Bracelet, discoveries from excavations in recent years are on view, among them a set of amulets found within one house.