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.