Giraffe and flamingo on the menu at Pompeii

The Romans were not averse to dining on the meat of exotic animals – when they could get hold of them. Mackinnon (2006) Supplying Exotic Animals for the Roman Amphitheatre Games, suggests that the exotic animals imported and killed in the Roman games were distributed for consumption.

From Mackinnon 2006

From Mackinnon 2006

Now evidence is emerging from Pompeii where it seems leg of giraffe could have been on the menu. Past Horizons has the story:

University of Cincinnati archaeologists are making discoveries in Pompeii that are changing traditional perceptions of how the inhabitants dined; the rich enjoying delicacies such as flamingos and the poor scrounging for soup or gruel.

UC teams of archaeologists have spent more than a decade at two city blocks within a non-elite district in the Roman city of Pompeii, which was buried under a volcano in 79 AD. The excavations are uncovering the earlier use of buildings that would have dated back to the 6th century BC. ….

… The area covers 10 separate building plots and a total of 20 shop fronts, most of which served food and drink. The waste that was examined included collections from drains as well as 10 latrines and cesspits, which yielded mineralized and charred food waste coming from kitchens and excrement. Ellis says among the discoveries in the drains was an abundance of the remains of fully-processed foods, especially grains.

The material from the drains revealed a range and quantity of materials to suggest a rather clear socio-economic distinction between the activities and consumption habits of each property, which were otherwise indistinguishable hospitality businesses,” says Ellis. Findings revealed foods that would have been inexpensive and widely available, such as grains, fruits, nuts, olives, lentils, local fish and chicken eggs, as well as minimal cuts of more expensive meat and salted fish from Spain. Waste from nearby drains would also turn up less of a variety of foods, revealing a socio-economic distinction between neighbours. …..

….. A drain from a central property revealed a richer variety of foods as well as imports from outside Italy, such as shellfish, sea urchin and even delicacies including the butchered leg joint of a giraffe. “That the bone represents the height of exotic food is underscored by the fact that this is thought to be the only giraffe bone ever recorded from an archaeological excavation in Roman Italy,” says Ellis. “How part of the animal, butchered, came to be a kitchen scrap in a seemingly standard Pompeian restaurant not only speaks to long-distance trade in exotic and wild animals, but also something of the richness, variety and range of a non-elite diet.”

Deposits also included exotic and imported spices, some from as far away as Indonesia.

Ellis adds that one of the deposits dates as far back as the 4th century BC which he says is a particularly valuable discovery, since few other ritual deposits survived from that early stage in the development of Pompeii. …… 

Steven Ellis will present these discoveries on Jan. 4, at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and American Philological Association (APA) in Chicago.

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