Thursday, May 31, 2007

In Pompeii eat like it's A.D. 79 until June 26

Researchers have tried to bring back to life the city's food chain by replanting, in the restaurant's garden and in other open spaces throughout the city's ruins, the fruits and vegetables that were part of the Roman diet -- figs and olives, plums and grapes, as well as broom, bramble, poppy and mallow.

Kits with the ingredients will be sold to visitors in the area around the restaurant with instructions on how to cook their own Roman specialties. Although there will be no cooking on the site, visitors will be directed to a local restaurant where some of the specialties will be offered.

"We wanted to learn what the inhabitants of Pompeii ate,'' said Anna Maria Ciarallo, a biologist who heads the project for Pompeii's archaeological office. "But we wanted a side of the project to appeal directly to the public as well.''

Some may keep away from "garum,'' a pungent sauce used for flavoring and obtained by fermenting fish entrails, but Ciarallo said that many Roman dishes closely resembled modern cuisine.

The recipe to make prosciutto ham has remained unchanged, while "savillum,'' the favorite dessert of many Romans, was a baked cream similar to today's custard, Ciarallo said.

Pompeii's rich were known to feast on such exotic dishes as swallow's tongue and parrot meat, but the project is presenting more everyday fare, Ciarallo said.

The restaurant was located between the gymnasium, the amphitheater and one of the city's gates and mostly catered to middle-class merchants and travelers, Ciarallo said.

Its six benches were probably always filled with hungry customers passing through the busy neighborhood, she said. The guests would recline on one side on the benches, as eating customs demanded at the time, to chat, play dice -- one of the Romans' favorite pastimes -- and partake of the dishes served out of large pots. The quiche-like "libum'' is made with bread, laurel leaves and cheese resembling today's ricotta.

"It was a sweet and sour cuisine, which blended the sharp tastes of vinegar and spices with the sugars of honey and figs,'' Ciarallo said. Cereals and beans were the staples of the Roman diet, together with fish, cheese and limited quantities of eggs and meat.

"The main differences were between the social classes,'' she said.

Slaves were kept on a high-energy diet of bread, dried-fruits and low quality cheese and wine. The upper classes enjoyed the same foods available to the middle class, but the quantities were larger, the ingredients finer, and the banquets were lavish presentations.

The project will shut down on June 26 because of lack of funds...

Some recipes prepared in ancient Pompeii:

Peaches with Cumin
Can be an appetizer or a dessert.
Peel and chop up some firm peaches
Cover peaches in a cumin sauce made with ground pepper, parsley, mint leaves, cumin, honey, vinegar and a dash of garum, which is a fish sauce made from fish entrails steeped in brine. A modern-day version of garum, "colatura di alici'' or anchovy juice, is still produced on the Amalfi coast.

Celery Dessert
Chop celery, roast the pieces in an oven.
Serve with honey and ground pepper.

Pork with Dried Figs and Cheese Side Dish
Boil a fresh pork shoulder with dried figs and bay leaves.
Carve off the rind, cover in pastry and bake in a hot oven.
For side dish, mix different types of herbs into fresh ricotta-like cheese, add some olive oil and serve with sesame seeds or hazelnuts.

-- Associated Press

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pre-Roman thru Byzantine Period Wine Presses Found on Thassos

"Greek archaeologists have discovered a complex of ancient farmhouses and large wine-presses [similar to the Greco-Roman press pictured at left] on the northern Aegean island of Thassos dating from before the Roman period until late Byzantine times, the culture ministry said Wednesday [May 23, 2007].

Built with walls of stone over a meter (three feet) high and lined with plaster, the wine-presses were found clustered on a mountain near the coastal village of Limenaria, at an altitude of 500 meters.

The remains of enclosures suggest the presence of large estates that shared the use of the wine-presses, the ministry said.

Though apparently inhabited mainly during the grape harvest, the site was in use from the Hellenistic period that followed the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC onwards.

The local archaeological department has been researching the Thassos site for the past two years.

Also Wednesday, the ministry said that another archaeological team found the remains of a rural shrine to presumed fertility deities near the town of Orchomenos in central Greece.

The shrine had sustained damage in the construction of an irrigation canal in the 1950s, but the archaeologists found thousands of votive offerings, including miniature vessels, animal idols, scarabs, and lamps.

They also found rare clay replicas of flowers entwined with ears of corn, representing gifts left by faithful visiting the shrine.

In ancient times, citizens of Orchomenos are known to have worshipped the Three Graces, daughters of Zeus said to represent beauty, charm, and joy but also associated with bloom."

I wish archaeological teams would take field photographers with them so digital images of new finds could be more readily available. The clay replicas of flowers entwined with ears of corn sound very beautiful. I would love to see a picture of them! Unfortunately, they'll probably end up in some museum or university storage compartment never to be seen by the general public or anyone else for that matter outside a handful of researchers.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

4th century Roman sarcophagus unearthed at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church

Archaeologists have moved closer to bridging a 200 year gap in the ancient history of London.

New treasures unearthed at St Martin-in the-Fields church, off Trafalgar Square, provide evidence of a link between the Romans and the Saxons.

The finds from the church, which go on display at the Museum of London from tomorrow to August 8th, include a limestone sarcophagus with the human remains of a middle-aged Roman man.

The exhibition also features a kiln, dating from between 400AD and 450AD, for making tiles and a gold pendant and beads dating between 650AD and 670AD, believed to have been found in a woman's grave.

The Museum's curator Francis Grew said the stone coffin of the man, who died between 410 to 420AD, was a "hugely moving discovery".

He said: "At that time the Roman Empire was rapidly disintegrating and Britain was not really part of the Roman Empire.

"This is a hugely exciting discovery. His bones symbolise the end of the Roman world, the end of the ancient world."

Mr Grew said that the man - thought to have been a rich, highly esteemed member of society - would have lived through a fascinating period.

He said: "He probably just caught a glimpse of the people from Germany, the Saxons.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Herod Tomb may have been found at Herodium

An Israeli archaeologist on Tuesday said he has found remnants of the tomb of King Herod, the legendary builder of ancient Jerusalem, on a flattened hilltop in the Judean Desert where the biblical monarch built a palace. Hebrew University archaeologist Ehud Netzer said the tomb was found at Herodium, a site where he has termed the find a "major discovery by all means," but cautioned further research is needed.

He said all signs indicate the tomb belongs to Herod, but said ruins with an inscription on it were needed for full verification. "We're moving in the right direction. It will be clinched once we have an inscription that bears his name," said Pfann, a textual scholar who did not participate in Netzer's dig.

The fragments of carved limestone found at the sandy site are decorated with floral motives, but do not include any inscriptions. It has long been assumed that Herod was buried at Herodium, but decades of excavations failed to turn up the site until now. The first century historian Josephus Flavius described the tomb and Herod's funeral procession.

Herodium was one of the last strong points held by Jewish rebels fighting against the Romans, and it was conquered and destroyed by Roman forces in A.D. 71, a year after they destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Aeneas' Temple of Minerva found in Castro, Italy?

"Archaeologists at the University of Lecce have discovered that the modern town, with its 15th-century walls, sits on the ruins of the port that was the first landfall in Italy made by the semi-mythical wanderer of the ancient world, Aeneas. According to Virgil's epic, he fled Troy as the Greeks destroyed it and made his laborious way westwards finally to found a "new Troy", the imperial city of Rome.

In the third book of the Aeneid, according to John Dryden's 17th-century translation, the poet describes the hero's discovery of Italy thus:

"... And now the rising morn with rosy light

Adorns the skies, and puts the stars to flight;

When we from far, like bluish mists, descry

The hills, and then the plains, of Italy ...

The gentle gales their flagging force renew,

And now the happy harbour is in view.

Minerva's temple then salutes our sight,

Plac'd, as a landmark, on the mountain's height ..."

Minerva's temple is the key: the head of the Archaeology Department at Lecce University has found clinching evidence of the existence of a temple of Minerva, exactly where the poet describes it. "There is no doubt," Professor Francesco d'Andria said. "We have found fragments of a female divinity, and many iron weapons given to the goddess as offerings. In this temple a warrior goddess was worshipped. Minerva was worshipped."