Indiana Jones injected romance into archaeology. He used a bull whip, which is arguably a bad way to inject anything, outside of virtual kinkiness, but no matter, after seeing him make a shambles of real archaeology, a whole population wanted to become a manly archaeologist, just like Indiana.
As a former archaeologist, I can tell you that there isn’t a lot about archaeology that is romantic. Interesting is another story. The best information is in the gruesome and slimy things. Those bones bubbly-lookin’? Syphilis. Wanna know what folks really ate? Hit the cesspits, Indiana!
What makes an archaeologist absolutely giddy, however, is to find a disaster in which time stopped. Like at Pompeii. Folks hid from the flowing ash, carrying the things with them that seemed important at the time. Treasure, to them, data to us.
Then they fried.
In the 1980s, archaeologists found some of these unfortunate, fleeing folks in a basement storeroom under a large agricultural depot in the little suburb of Oplontis that happened to be full of pomegranates at the time. They are just getting around to studying them. The people I mean. Archaeology is like that. Slow.
But what they’re uncovering is interesting. Like:
One conclusion, if you exclude the destitute who had no support networks at all, is that both rich and poor in Pompeii had a decent diet. True, the rich may have had more elaborate dining rooms, but the poor ate decently too.
Yep, they ate, among other things I’m sure: sea urchins, nuts and figs, eggs and chicken.
It’s like today in Italy, where the real good food is Cucina Povera, the cooking of the poor, and it’s available to pretty much everyone who makes an effort to work every once in a while. I’ve written about it before, and so has Rick Steves. Perhaps you’d wish to peruse: The Democracy of Italian Cuisine.
But imagine, after thousands of years, there is still very little sign of a hoity-toity “high” cuisine. The old way is good enough, as long as you don’t let the industrialists have their way with your raw materials. Because it’s in the raw details where you’ll find the key to good Italian cuisine.
And yes, the real excitement in archaeology comes down to food that’s passed through someone’s gut. Sure, you find a coin occasionally, lying on the ground I mean, but what can you learn from mass-produced, worthless junk like money?
Merda, that’s the ticket. And you don’t need no bullwhip to get it outta the ground either.
Anyway, read one of the most interesting articles about Pompeii I’ve read in a long time. I’ve had enough of political haggling over falling rocks. Start here: Pompeii skeletons reveal secrets of Roman family life