Pompeii archaeologists baffled as ‘significant’ find shows difference in Roman diets

Pompeii: Expert discusses discovery of wall inscriptions

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Scientists made the breakthrough discovery of a new hoard of bones in the town of Herculaneum, which was also destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption in 79AD. And they were able to get an incredible insight into the diets of ancient Roman men and women. According to their paper, published in the journal Science Advances, men ate more cereals and seafood than women.

On the other hand, females in the town were eating more eggs, dairy, and meat from land animals.

Experts are baffled as to why, but some think it could be due to different occupations or even cultural taboos.

Archaeologist Oliver Craig, from the University of York, said: “The remains of those who perished at Herculaneum in 79 CE offer a unique opportunity to examine the lifestyles across an ancient community who lived and died together.

“Historical sources often allude to differential access to foodstuffs across Roman society but rarely provide direct or quantitative information.

“We found significant differences in the proportions of marine and terrestrial foods consumed between males and females, implying that access to food was differentiated according to gender.”

The Roman settlement, along with nearby Pompeii, was obliterated by one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions in history when Mount Vesuvius blew its lid.

The natural disaster ejected molten rock, pulverised pumice and hot ash at 1.5 million tonnes per second over the city’s 12,000 residents – in what would have been a terrifying ending.

But it also covered the city in a blanket of thick material, allowing modern-day scientists to continue to study its inhabitants.

For the recent study, the researchers conducted isotope analysis on the bones of 11 men and six women who had tried to take shelter from the ash falling down on Herculaneum.

The isotopes helped to reveal a clear difference in their diets.

Archaeologist Silvia Soncin, also from the University of York, said: “Our research builds on what we know that males had greater access to marine fish at Herculaneum and more broadly in Roman Italy.

“Males were more likely to be directly engaged in fishing and maritime activities, they generally occupied more privileged positions in society, and were freed from slavery at an earlier age providing greater access to expensive commodities, such as fresh fish.”

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When Mount Vesuvius erupted in the first century, it released 100,000 times more thermal energy than the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At least 1,000 people died in the eruption, but exact numbers are unknown.

Vesuvius has erupted many times since, with the last coming in 1944.

Today, it is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because of the population of three million people living nearby.

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