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Archaeologists Find Ancient “Fast Food” Counter in Pompeii

Apparently, two thousand years ago, some people had to have it their way. In the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, archaeologists have recently discovered a well-preserved, frescoed fast food counter. The stand was found in a thermopolium, which means "a place where (something) hot is sold." In other words, a commercial location where ready-to-eat food could be purchased.

There are 150 thermopolia in the Regio V, which is a 54-acre site to the north of the archaeological park. According to archaeologists, fast food counters served poorer members of the population who could not afford to have a working kitchen in their homes. Menus usually included coarse bread with salty fish, baked cheese, lentils, and mulled spiced wine. Patrons of these eateries were often ridiculed by the Roman elites, who thought fast food was beneath them.

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A typical thermopolium would include a small room with a characteristic masonry counter in the front, which was embedded with earthenware jars that stored dried food like nuts and other items, similar to a modern-day salad bar. The jars were not usually used for hot food since they were embedded and not easily cleaned out.

The Thermopolium of Asellina is one of the most renowned examples of a thermopolium in Pompeii. The counter was uncovered with a complete set of jugs and dishes, as well as a kettle filled with water. The thermopolia usually had shrines for the Lares, or household gods, Mercury, the god of commerce, and Bacchus, the god of wine.

The recent finding was made in the most exhaustive excavation conducted in Pompeii since the 1960s. In February, archaeologists uncovered a preserved fresco representing the mythological hunter Narcissus unsurprisingly looking at his own reflection in a spring. Other discoveries include human and animal remains, including a still harnessed horse, from the period.

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Pompeii, a very prosperous city that was destroyed by an eruption that killed 2,000 and buried the city in volcanic ash in 79 CE, was first unearthed in the sixteenth century, though excavations only commenced in 1748. Pompeii is currently one of the world’s most visited archaeological sites.

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