Category Archives: ITALY

Restored Pompeii Kitchens Give Us An Idea Of How Romans Cooked

Restored Pompeii Kitchens Give Us An Idea Of How Romans Cooked

In a new project that seeks to give visitors a taste of the everyday life within the city the ancient roman kitchens of the Pompeii launderette were once again equipped with pots and pans.

The kitchens were once used to provide food for the hungry attendants of the three-story launderette, Fullonica di Stephanus before they were destroyed by a volcanic eruption in AD 79.

It was the location where rich Roman patricians were sent to clean their togas to be washed in huge baths using clay and urine. The garments were then rinsed, dried and placed on special presses to ensure they returned to their noble owners crease-free.

Thanks to a refurbishment which finished on Monday, the kitchens inside the Fullonica now appear as they did 2,000 years ago, complete with metal grills, pots, pans, and earthenware crockery.

The new installment provides an interesting window on Roman cooking practices.

Instead of using gas or electric hobs, the Romans cooked their food over specially-made troughs, in which beds of flaming charcoal were placed.

Hunks of meat, fish, and vegetables were then laid on grills directly over the coals, while soups and stews simmered away in pots and pans that were stood on special tripods to elevate them above the scorching embers.

All of the cooking equipment now on display was found in and around the kitchens when they were first excavated in 1912 by the then Superintendent of Pompeii, Vittorio Spinazzola.

Restored Pompeii Kitchens Give Us An Idea Of How Romans Cooked
The kitchens at the Fullonica di Stephanus.

Spinazzola initially left all the items in the kitchen, but his predecessors packed them away in storage or placed them in glass display cabinets in different areas of the site.

“We’re delighted the pieces have finally been put back on display where they were found and we’re certain they will be appreciated by modern tourists, eager to learn how people lived in antiquity,” said Massimo Osanna, the current Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii.

As part of the same initiative, further examples of ancient Roman culinary practices were also given a permanent exhibition at the city gym, the Palestra Grande, on Monday.

Visitors can now marvel at a carbonized loaf of two-millennia-old bread and admire a metal pot containing the fossilized remnants of a bean and vegetable soup.  

Genetic Study Reveals Exactly Who ‘The Romans’ Were

Genetic Study Reveals Exactly Who ‘The Romans’ Were

Ancient Rome was the capital city of an empire that encompassed some 70 million inhabitants. An international research team now reports on data from a genetic study suggesting that, just as all roads may once have led to Rome, in ancient times, a great many European genetic lineages also converged in the ancient city.

Results from the research present possibly the most detailed analysis to date of genetic variability in the region. They reveal a dynamic population history from the Mesolithic era (~10,000 BCE) into modern times, which spans the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

“This study shows how dynamic the past really is,” said Hannah Moots, a graduate student in anthropology at Stanford University, who is the co-lead author of the published paper, which is reported in Science, and titled, “Ancient Rome: A genetic crossroads of Europe and the Mediterranean.”

At that time, “Rome was like New York City … a concentration of people of different origins joining together,” says Guido Barbujani, a population geneticist at the University of Ferrara in Italy who wasn’t involved in the study.

“This is the kind of cutting-edge work that’s starting to fill in the details [of history],” adds Kyle Harper, a Roman historian at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

The study, published today in Science, traces 12,000 years of history using genomes from 127 people buried at 29 archaeological sites in and around the city of Rome.

Alfredo Coppa, a physical anthropologist at the Sapienza University of Rome, sought hundreds of samples from dozens of previously excavated sites. Ron Pinhasi of the University of Vienna extracted DNA from the skeletons’ ear bones, and Jonathan Pritchard, a population geneticist at Stanford University, sequenced and analyzed their DNA.

The oldest genomes came from three hunter-gatherers who lived 9000 to 12,000 years ago and genetically resembled other hunter-gatherers in Europe at the time. Later genomes showed the Romans changed in step with the rest of Europe, as an influx of early farmers with ancestry from Anatolia (what is now Turkey) reshaped the genetics of the entire region some 9000 years ago.

But Rome went its own way from 900 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E. That’s when it grew from a small town into an important city, says Kristina Killgrove, a Roman bioarchaeologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill who wasn’t involved in the study.

During its growth, “probably a lot of migration [was] happening,” she says—as the genomes of 11 individuals from this period confirm. Some people had genetic markers resembling those of modern Italians, whereas others had markers reflecting ancestry from the Middle East and North Africa.

That diversity increased even more as Rome became an empire. Between 27 B.C.E. and 300 C.E., the city was the capital of an empire of 50 million to 90 million people, stretching from North Africa to Britain to the Middle East. Its population grew to more than 1 million people. The genetic “diversity was just overwhelming,” Pinhasi says.

But people from certain parts of the empire were far more likely to move to the capital. The study suggests the vast majority of immigrants to Rome came from the East. Of 48 individuals sampled from this period, only two showed strong genetic ties to Europe.

Another two had strong North African ancestry. The rest had ancestry connecting them to Greece, Syria, Lebanon, and other places in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

That makes sense, Harper says, because, at the time, areas to the east of Italy were more populous than Europe; many people lived in big cities such as Athens and Alexandria. And Rome was connected to Greece and the Middle East by the Mediterranean Sea, which was far easier to traverse than overland routes through the Alps, he says.

“The genetic information parallels what we know from historical and archaeological records,” Killgrove says. She and others have identified individuals from imperial Roman cemeteries who likely didn’t grow up in Rome, based on isotopes in their teeth that reflect the water they drank when young—though the studies couldn’t show their precise origins. Ancient texts and words carved on tombstones also point to large populations of immigrants in the city, Harper says.

But once the empire split in two and the eastern capital moved to Constantinople (what is now Istanbul, Turkey) in the 4th century C.E., Rome’s diversity decreased. Trade routes sent people and goods to the new capital, and epidemics and invasions reduced Rome’s population to about 100,000 people.

Invading barbarians brought in more European ancestry. Rome gradually lost its strong genetic link to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. By medieval times, city residents again genetically resembled European populations.

“People perhaps imagine that the amount of migration we see nowadays is a new thing,” Pritchard says. “But it’s clear from ancient DNA that populations have been mixing at really high rates for a long time.”

The Medieval Woman Who “Gave Birth” In A Coffin

The Medieval Woman Who “Gave Birth” In A Coffin

In Italy, a macabre discovery brought insight into two rare medical phenomena from the early Middle Ages. 

In Imola, Italy, among several burials. The well-preserved remains of an adult laid to rest with the bones of a fetus positioned between the legs were found by archaeologists.

A deeper analysis has now shown that the pair is an unusual case of ‘ coffin birth. ‘

Among several burials unearthed in Imola, Italy in 2010, archaeologists found the well-preserved remains of an adult laid to rest with the bones of a fetus positioned between its legs (shown). A closer look has now revealed the pair represents an unusual case of ‘coffin birth’

During the funeral both the mother and the child had already died-but, it wasn’t until after that the stillborn baby was pushed from her body.

It remains a mystery how exactly the pregnant woman died hundreds of years ago around the age of 25-35, but markings on her skull indicate she underwent medieval brain surgery at least a week prior, with a hole drilled neatly into her skull.

Researchers from the Universities of Ferrara and Bologna have detailed the grim findings in a paper published to the journal World Neurosurgery.

The procedure exemplified in the burial from the 7th-8th century AD is known as trepanation and is thought to date back to the Neolithic era.

It was used to treat all sorts of ailments by drilling or cutting into the skull – including a pregnancy disorder still common today.

‘Eclampsia is the outcome of seizures of pre-eclampsia, which can affect women after the twentieth week of pregnancy, and hypertensive diseases are still the first cause of maternal death,’ the authors wrote in the study.

‘Some of the most common manifestations of this disease are high fever, convulsions, consistent frontal, and occipital cephalalgia, high intracranial pressure, and cerebral hemorrhage.

‘All these symptoms, from Prehistory to the 20th century, used to be treated with trepanation.’

It remains a mystery how exactly the pregnant woman died hundreds of years ago around the age of 25-35, but markings on her skull indicate she underwent medieval brain surgery at least a week prior, with a hole drilled neatly into her skull. The procedure is known as trepanation

The nature of the lesion observed in the ancient skull suggests the injury was the result of surgical intervention, rather than violent trauma.

And, the researchers say it even exhibits signs of early bone healing, indicating the woman survived at least a week after the procedure was done. At the time, she was roughly 38 weeks into the pregnancy.

While it’s impossible to know for sure why the trepanation was performed, the researchers say it was likely an attempt to reduce pressure in the skull stemming from eclampsia.  How she died is even less certain.

‘There are still several unknown points about the woman’s cause of death,’ the authors explain, noting that she could have died from the pregnancy disorder, labor-related complications, or the surgery itself.

Coffin birth is rare, particularly in modern times where modern embalming practices remove bodily fluids and insert chemicals to prevent decomposition

In any case, the researchers say the discovery of both trepanation and coffin birth in the same set of remains is incredibly rare.

‘This finding is one of the few documented cases of trepanation in the European Early Middle Ages, and the only one featuring a pregnant woman in association with a post mortem fetal extrusion phenomenon,’ the authors wrote.

‘Considering all these factors, this case represents a unicum and sheds more light on the clinical history of neurosurgery and pregnancy during this historical period.’

‘Lovers of Modena’ Buried Hand-in-Hand Turn Out to Be Men

‘Lovers of Modena’ Buried Hand-in-Hand Turn Out to Be Men

The investigators have shown that a skeleton couple found holding their hands at a tomb in Italy were both men.

When it was discovered in Modena’s Ciro Menotti cemetery in 2009, the skeletons made global headlines.

Their gender could not be determined because it was poorly preserved but it was widely believed that they were a man and a woman.

The University of Bologna and Modena researchers rejected that presumption by testing proteins in their tooth enamel and finding a peptide present only in men in both cases.

But researchers have been able to test proteins on tooth enamel using a new technique to reveal that male skeletons of the 4-6 th century AD are male.

The relationship between the pair remains a mystery, however, researchers say the couple was buried hand-in-hand on purpose.

Some suggest the skeletons – who were of similar age – could be related, such as brothers or cousins.

Other researchers claim they could have been soldiers who died in battle and the burial site was a war cemetery.  

This is the first time two men have been found buried holding hands, researchers at the University of Bologna revealed in Nature journal. 

Using a new technique, researchers were able to test the protein on tooth enamel to reveal the 4-6th Century AD skeletons were male

It is not known if the pair were homosexual, however, it is unlikely that the nature of their relationship would be recognized so clearly by the people who prepared the burial. 

‘At present, there are no other burials of this type,’ Study author Federico Lugli told Italy’s Rai news site. 

‘In the past several graves were found with pairs of individuals laid hand in hand, but in all cases, it was a man and a woman.

What was the link between the two individuals of the Modena burial, instead, remains for the moment a mystery’. 

The new discovery could now help researchers understand ancient funeral practices in Italy. 

Ancient Romans Used Molten Iron to Repair Streets Before Vesuvius Erupted

Ancient Romans Used Molten Iron to Repair Streets Before Vesuvius Erupted

Whilst mostly related to the Vesuvius eruption, Pompeii’s legacy goes beyond the catastrophe and takes account of a vast chapter in history, from pre-Roman temples to astounding frescoes.

As it turns out, the legacy also boasts its fair share of innovative features, as was identified by independent scholars and researchers from the University of Massachusetts and the University of Texas.

To that end, according to a recent paper published in the American Journal of Archaeology in April, the Romans made use of molten iron to repair streets inside Pompeii before the Vesuvius eruption in circa 79 AD.

The study was carried out in 2014, with the assessment revealing how many of Pompeii’s streets were originally paved with stone. But over time, the passage of carts and carriages made their literal marks on the paths, thereby creating small depressions and ruts.

One particular case study revealed how a busy narrow stone-paved street inside the ancient city could get broken down in a matter of few decades.

Now while one of the straightforward solutions entailed repaving these sections with stones, the predicament related to how the process was not only time-consuming but also expensive.

So with typical Roman ingenuity, the ancient repairers tried their hand at an offbeat solution – in the form of pouring molten iron (or heated iron slag) to fill the gaps in the dilapidated streets. Suffice it to say, the molten state rapidly turned into a hardened form after being directed into these ruts and holes, thereby plugging the gaps.

On occasions, the Romans also used ground-up fragments of ceramics and terracotta, along with stone bits, to further fill the ruts and smooth them over.

Now while this solution was relatively cheap and seemingly straightforward, researchers are not certain of how the process of carrying and pouring the hot iron was conducted.

To that end, the iron slag, depending on its type and purity, had to be heated at a very high temperature ranging between 2,012 and 2,912 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 to 1,600 degrees Celsius).

Interestingly enough, reconstructed models of ancient Roman furnaces have proved how some of the installations could reach such blisteringly hot temperatures.

Furthermore, the archaeologists had noted the deposit residues of heated iron on disparate places on the streets that didn’t need repairing, thus suggesting how the molten iron was sometimes even accidentally dropped during the renovation process.

Judging by such seemingly hasty and offhand techniques, according to one researcher, the dangerous repairing works entailing molten iron were possibly carried by state-sanctioned public slaves (under the directive of the magistrates).

And lastly, the scientists are also trying to analyze the iron composition within many of these Pompeii streets, which, in turn, could provide clues concerning the sources or the locations of the mines during the Roman times.

Frozen moss reveals fatal final journey of 5,300-year-old ice mummy

Frozen moss reveals fatal final journey of 5,300-year-old ice mummy


According to a study released on October 30th, 2019, in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by James Dickson of the University of Glasgow (UK) and colleagues at the University of Innsbruck, Alongside the famous Ötzi, the Iceman is buried, at least 75 species of bryophytes -mosses and liverworts — which hold clues to Ötzi’s surroundings.

Ötzi Iceman is a remarkable 5,300-year-old human frozen ice specimen that has been found in the Italian Alps at around 3,200 meters above sea level.

He was frozen alongside his clothing and gear as well as an abundant assemblage of plants and fungi. In this study, Dickson and colleagues aimed to identify the mosses and liverworts preserved alongside the Iceman.

Otzi is an incredibly well-preserved glacier mummy that’s 5,300 years old.

Today, 23 bryophyte species live the area near where Ötzi was found, but inside the ice, the researchers identified thousands of preserved bryophyte fragments representing at least 75 species.

It is the only site of such high altitude with bryophytes preserved over thousands of years.

Notably, the assemblage includes a variety of mosses ranging from low-elevation to high-elevation species, as well as 10 species of liverworts, which are very rarely preserved in archaeological sites.

Only 30% of the identified bryophytes appear to have been local species, with the rest having been transported to the spot in Ötzi’s gut or clothing or by large mammalian herbivores whose droppings ended up frozen alongside the Iceman.

From these remains, the researchers infer that the bryophyte community in the Alps around 5,000 years ago was generally similar to that of today.

Furthermore, the non-local species help to confirm the path Ötzi took to his final resting place. Several of the identified moss species thrive today in the lower Schnalstal valley, suggesting that Ötzi traveled along the valley during his ascent.

This conclusion is corroborated by previous pollen research, which also pinpointed Schnalstal as the Iceman’s likely route of ascent.

Dickson adds, “Most members of the public are unlikely to be knowledgeable about bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). However, no fewer than 75 species of these important investigative clues were found when the Iceman (aka Ötzi) was removed from the ice.

They were recovered as mostly small scraps from the ice around him, from his clothes and gear, and even from his alimentary tract.

Those findings prompted the questions: Where did the fragments come from? How precisely did they get there? How do they help our understanding of the Iceman?”

Medieval pilgrim tombs found below Rome street

Medieval pilgrim tombs found below Rome street

ROME, ITALY—BBC reports that medieval burials were unearthed during utility work on the Via del Governo Vecchio in central Rome.

The graves had been damaged by previous construction projects.

According to Archeological Superintendence the city found two graves dating from the Middle Ages during gas works on Via del Governo Vecchio in the center of Rome, a road near Piazza Navona.

The first tomb, partially destroyed by gas and sewage pipes, contained two human skeletons: one belonging to a woman (25-30 years) with a shell in her hand, and a man (30-40 years).

Besides the female skeleton is a bronze coin dating from the late 11th and 12th centuries, and other fragments of shells.

The second burial site consists of several graves set against a brick wall thought to be associated with the Church of St. Cecilia at Monte Giordano, which was built in A.D. 1123 and demolished in the early seventeenth century. 

The second tomb, particularly damaged by modern-day infrastructural works, comprises a cemetery area with dividing sections against a brickwork wall whose graves appear to date to Mediaeval times.

The scallop shells found next to the skeletons contain two holes suggesting their use as necklaces traditionally worn by the pilgrims in the Middle Ages.

These elements lead experts to believe the find was a cemetery for pilgrims, located along the ancient Via Papalis pilgrimage route to St Peter’s.

The burial chambers probably belonged to the medieval Church of S. Cecilia at Monte Giordano, whose origins date back to 1123 but which was demolished in the first half of the 17th century to make space for the Oratorio dei Filippini designed by Francesco Borromini.

Ancient images of gladiators unearthed at the city of Pompeii

Ancient images of gladiators unearthed at the city of Pompeii

Archeologists in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii have uncovered a well-preserved fresco showing fighting gladiators.

This scene marks the end of a war between a murmullo and a Thracian form of gladiator, one victorious and the other losing. Both types are described by weapons and armor.

It is the latest discovery in Regio V, a 21.8-hectare (54-acre) site to the north of the archaeological park that is yet to open to the public.

A detail from the fresco of two gladiators fighting that was found at a site north of Pompeii’s archaeological park

The fresco was found on a wall beneath the stairwell of what was probably a tavern frequented by gladiators and which provided accommodation on a higher floor for them to sleep with sex workers.

“It’s very probable that this place was frequented by gladiators,” said Massimo Osanna, the director-general of Pompei’s archaeological park.

The fresco was discovered on a wall in what was probably a tavern frequented by gladiators.

“We are in Regio V, not far from where there were barracks for gladiators, where among other things, there was graffiti referring to this world.

“Of particular interest in this fresco is the very realistic representation of wounds on the wrist and chest of the unsuccessful gladiator … we don’t know the outcome of the fight, he could have died or was given grace.”

A well-preserved ‘fast food’ counter was unearthed in March.

Excavations at Regio V have yielded dozens of discoveries since work began last year as part of the EU-funded Great Pompeii Project.

A frescoed “fast food” counter, or thermopolium, was found in March and another depicting the mythological hunter Narcissus enraptured by his own reflection in a pool of water was discovered in February.

Human remains have also been found, including the skeletons of two women and three children huddled together in a villa, as well as the remains of a harnessed horse and saddle.

Much work has been done across the entire park, which has attracted almost 4 million visitors a year since 2013 when Unesco threatened to place it on its list of world heritage sites in peril unless Italian authorities improved on preservation.

“A few years ago the archaeological site of Pompeii was known throughout the world for its negative image: the collapses, the strikes and the queues of tourists under the sun,” said Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini.

“Today’s story is one of redemption and millions of more tourists. It is a welcoming site, but above all, we have returned to doing research through new digs.

“The discovery of the fresco shows that Pompeii is an inexhaustible mine of research and knowledge for today’s archaeologists and for those of the future.”