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Ancient Pompeii Diet Consisted of Giraffe and Other "Exotic'" Delicacies 172

Posted by samzenpus
from the crunchy-frog dept.
Philip Ross writes "New research into Pompeiians' daily lives is broadening our understanding of this ancient Roman culture, particularly their eating habits, before Mt. Vesuvius brought it all crumbling down nearly 2,000 years ago. Over the past decade, archaeologists excavating a row of building plots discovered remnants of food that would have been widely available and inexpensive in ancient Italy, like grains, fruits, olives, lentils, local fish, nuts and chicken eggs. They also uncovered evidence that Pompeiians enjoyed a variety of exotic foods, some of which would have been imported from outside Italy, including sea urchins, flamingos and even the butchered leg joint of a giraffe."
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Ancient Pompeii Diet Consisted of Giraffe and Other "Exotic'" Delicacies

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 05, 2014 @09:06PM (#45874625)

    It didn't matter if it tasted good, the point was you were showing off your ability to buy meat from an animal that lived thousands of miles away.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @09:21PM (#45874725)
      I think you're onto something. TFA says this was in the section of the city that was "non-elite." I guess it's human nature to want to buy silly things to make yourself look like you're higher in society than you actually feel.

      Unrelated question, anyone have a reccomendation for the best fake-diamond studded case for my iphone?
      • I have to wonder whether that fair would have been considered all that elite. The upper class Romans were very prone to holding gladiatorial events where they pitted various wild animals against the gladiators. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that the animals that lost ended up in the cook pots of the less affluent.

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        TFA says this was in the section of the city that was "non-elite."

        Probably more to the point is that Pompeii itself was a fairly nondescript little town in a minor province. It's like finding giraffe on the menu in a diner in Peroria (or wherever it is where you should "see how it plays in P......").

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe it was marketed as a height enhancement aid for males.

      Haha, I'm glad that nobody nowadays would fall for that kind of a scam!

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        a height enhancement aid for males.

        The Roman approach to height enhancement for males was to cut the other males off at the knee.

        Subtlety was never their strong point.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It didn't matter if it tasted good, the point was you were showing off your ability to buy meat from an animal that lived thousands of miles away.

      I'd just serve chicken and say it was giraffe. Same for Komodo dragon. White meat for lizards. Dark meat for other terrestrials and bay seal. Same for whale.

      The key to pulling this off is to over cook it. Most folks think endangered species has tough meat so make sure to keep that chicken on a bit too long.

      You may want to carve it or press it with a cookie cutter to make it look like it came from the animal - McDonald's does this all the time.

    • by icebike (68054)

      It didn't matter if it tasted good, the point was you were showing off your ability to buy meat from an animal that lived thousands of miles away.

      No refrigeration.

      So if there was a butchered leg joint, chances are that is all there really was. Just a souvenir joint, perhaps for bone carving.
      Seems unlikely you would butcher and salt a Giraffe, AND take the bones with you. Too heavy. No food value.

      Its not like you can capture one, and walk it to Pompeii. You've got a thousand miles to transport the meat, and the only way
      that happens is dry it and salt it. So it seems as likely it was a hunters Roman soldier's souvenir or a trade good as a food
      arti

      • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @10:44PM (#45875257)

        It didn't matter if it tasted good, the point was you were showing off your ability to buy meat from an animal that lived thousands of miles away.

        No refrigeration.

        So if there was a butchered leg joint, chances are that is all there really was. Just a souvenir joint, perhaps for bone carving. Seems unlikely you would butcher and salt a Giraffe, AND take the bones with you. Too heavy. No food value.

        Well, you could just, you know, bring captured live animals back with you to sell as a delicacy or for use as a pet/in the arena. Simply google "giraffes in the coliseum" and the very first hit has a list of exotic animals shown in the Coliseum, as well as documents in a particular festival where 19 giraffes were killed. So if a giraffe bone made it to Pompeii, it was very likely alive when it got there.

      • by immaterial (1520413) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @11:03PM (#45875337)
        It is important to note that in ancient Roman times, many species that are now confined to sub-Saharan Africa were living in North Africa (and some all the way into Greece) because of the wetter climate. This includes elephants, lions, and giraffes. These "exotic" animals weren't as far away as it seems.
        • by bytesex (112972)

          Lions roamed the mountains northern Greece/Thrace until some time in 1400's, if I recall correctly. In fact, they had a presence in the entire 'arc' around the eastern mediteranean. Hercules wore a lion's skin.

        • by gravis777 (123605)

          Yes, but this still has me wondering. Meat spoils pretty fast if it is not refrigerated. Maybe they had ice ships or something and only transported in the winter, or maybe they had farms where they raised exotic animals for food supplies. Even if these animals were in Northern Africa, it would take a few days to cross the Mediterranian with wind / oars, and then it would have to have been transported over land or the Nile through Africa to the port in Africa, so it would be spoiled by the time they reached

      • by swb (14022)

        Hannibal brought elephants into continental Europe.

        True, elephants to this day have a history of being used as draft animals, but he also brought them farther and under more difficult circumstances (war with Rome).

        Pompeii is in the southern part of the Italian peninsula and it doesn't seem unreasonable that giraffes could have been brought as livestock from Africa. Roman Carthage was an important city in the Roman empire and likely would have attracted all manner of exotic trade from Africa.

    • by DrXym (126579)
      Who says the animal lived thousands of miles away? Every modern zoo seems to have some giraffes so clearly they're not the hardest animal to rear and I assume Romans would have the capability and incentive to do so if there was a market for the meat.
  • maybe its good... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Connie_Lingus (317691) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @09:28PM (#45874745) Homepage

    i don't know why people here are assuming it doesn't taste good...we really have no idea. ...and let's not forget, different cultures have radically different preferences in taste.

    it only takes one example, the Asian fondness for the to-our-western-palettes-horrific fruit Durian, to make this point.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      we really have no idea

      Surely what giraffe meat tastes like is still known to mankind; it's not like they're extinct or anything...

      • we really have no idea

        Surely what giraffe meat tastes like is still known to mankind; it's not like they're extinct or anything...

        We're not done eating them yet. Anyone for seconds? ;)

      • I just googled for giraffe meat and I found quite a few people talking about eating it though I didn't find anywhere listing current prices and stock.

      • lol...yeah but who holds that knowledge?

        perhaps this is new area for Google.

        Google Meat ;)

      • by Phroggy (441)

        we really have no idea

        Surely what giraffe meat tastes like is still known to mankind; it's not like they're extinct or anything...

        As is so often the case, those of us posting here on Slashdot have no idea. Of course someone does, but we don't.

        • by jalopezp (2622345)
          The question was on quora not long ago [quora.com]. One guy said it tasted somewhere between beef and turkey, another said chicken but this may have been a joke. It's kind of hard to find online, but this place, giraffine [ydafs.com], sells their meat, milk and fur. They also say it tastes like horse but more tender: lean and intense.
    • it only takes one example, the Asian fondness for the to-our-western-palettes-horrific fruit Durian, to make this point.

      While durian smells terrible, the taste isn't that bad. A better example is a balut [wikipedia.org].

    • i don't know why people here are assuming it doesn't taste good...we really have no idea.

      Of course "we" have an idea. Giraffe meat is eaten in parts of Africa [allafrica.com]

    • by Ozoner (1406169)

      Durian smells bad, but tastes wonderful

    • The problem with durian isnt how it hits your palette, its how it hits your nose.

  • by IonOtter (629215) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @09:33PM (#45874795) Homepage

    Garum liquamen [wikipedia.org] is still in the stores today, still doing the same things it did for the ancient Greeks and Romans. We know it as "fish sauce", with one of the most well-known names being Viet Huong 3 Crabs Fish Sauce. [vietworldkitchen.com]

    • by Horshu (2754893)
      Not quite the same as the Roman recipe. Try Colatura for something closer to the real thing.
    • by dbIII (701233)
      I was once laughed at for checking the "best before" date on a bottle of fish sauce. It's already gone off.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Garum takes just a few days to make. Asian fish sauce is typically made over much longer periods.

      • by IonOtter (629215)

        Technically, you're correct. The researchers only had a few days in which to do it in a plastic bucket. Not exactly safe, either.

        According to records, garum was also made in large, clay jugs, just ilke the Asian sauce. The very best sauce was allowed to age for as long as 8 months, sometimes longer.

        The neat thing, is you got lots of stuff out of a single jar. The stuff off the very top was light a fine, rich amber, and commanded the highest prices. Further down, it was darker and got a good price. The

    • by Dynedain (141758)

      Or Worcestershire sauce.

  • by dbIII (701233) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @10:11PM (#45875067)
    Romans eating Giraffe (with honey?) was mentioned in at least one of them.
  • exotic (Score:5, Informative)

    by belmolis (702863) <billposerNO@SPAMalum.mit.edu> on Sunday January 05, 2014 @10:16PM (#45875123) Homepage
    Sea urchins aren't exotic for Italy. They may be considered an exotic food in North America, but they're indigenous to the Mediterranean and eaten in the region.
    • by forand (530402)
      Sea urchins are very common on the coast of Northern California. It is pretty much only eaten by fishermen and at Japanese restaurants though. Regardless, I suspect that the point of the article was that sea urchins aren't native to the sea immediately surrounding Pompeii. While it is likely Giraffes were walked from Africa, taking a barrel of sea water and sea urchins even 100 miles in a ox cart would still be considered just as exotic.
      • "I suspect that the point of the article was that sea urchins aren't native to the sea immediately surrounding Pompeii"

        And they would be wrong. Basically there's no place all along Mediterranean coast where you can't find sea urchins.

    • by ruir (2709173)
      Sea urchins exist in the atlantic and in the pacific too. The thing is that only in the mediterranean people eat them; although I remember picking them up in the beach in my childhood to use them as bait for fishing.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    wolf's nipples chips.

    • Imagine over-frying the nipples in the fryolator and having to throw out the batch, while a nipple-less wolf stares accusingly at you.

      Maybe he nudges the legless frog in the wheel next to him and rolls his eyes.
  • And I've worked at Pompeii. Not sure where Ellis go the idea that there was ever a "traditional vision of some mass of hapless lemmings - scrounging for whatever they can pinch from the side of a street." Pompeii has long been known from both epigraphic and archaeological evidence to have been a prosperous seaside town and popular destination for well off Romans.

    That different restaurants and tabernae catered to various social strata comes as absolutely no surprise, especially given the fact that habitatio

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Hmm. On one hand we have a random anonymous dude on the internet making grandiose claims. On the other we have a PhD archaeologist regarded as a pioneer in fieldwork who heads up the Pompeii project.

      Gotta say I'm torn here.
  • by gargleblast (683147) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @10:50PM (#45875289)

    About that giraffe leg:

    "I'll have the large horse leg meal please."

    "Would you like to go supersize for an extra denarius?"

    "Err - yeah. Supersize me."

  • by jonze (73484) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @10:57PM (#45875317)

    Any Roman city with self esteem had an arena for gladiator games. Part of these was the mass slaughter of 'exotic' animals. Not just predators such as Lions and Tigers but Flamingo's, Giraf's, Anteloupes and the like. In fact, the capture and import of these animals was big business and Rome emptied entire regions of its wildlife. Lions, for instance, are still extinct in Syria as a result of the capture and transport of Lions to the arena's of Rome. Quite a bit of the meat from these games found it's way to the market and was even given to the poor to show the generosity of the games organizers.

    • Not just predators such as Lions and Tigers but Flamingo's, Giraf's, Anteloupes and the like.

      You seem to be knowledgeable about history, but I hope you never teach English.

      • by hawkfish (8978)

        Not just predators such as Lions and Tigers but Flamingo's, Giraf's, Anteloupes and the like.

        You seem to be knowledgeable about history, but I hope you never teach English.

        Not to mention cooking...

  • According to Ellis, this was the first giraffe bone ever found during an archaeological excavation of ancient Roman Italy.

    What if that one piece of bone was a part of a funny advertizement that hung just outside the door? "We don't sell no giraffe here!"

    Seriously though, why would they speculate that it was something that was eaten, if they only found one?

    • Seriously though, why would they speculate that it was something that was eaten, if they only found one?

      Because they ate all the rest, of course. . .

    • Seriously though, why would they speculate that it was something that was eaten, if they only found one?

      Because it was butchered and in kitchen garbage.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Larks' tongues. Wrens' livers. Chaffinch brains. Jaguars' earlobes. Wolf nipple chips. Get 'em while they're hot. They're lovely. Dromedary pretzels, only half a denar. Tuscany fried bats.

    BRIAN: Larks' tongues. Otters' noses. Ocelot spleens.

    REG: Got any nuts?

    BRIAN: I haven't got any nuts. Sorry. I've got wrens' livers, badgers' spleens--

    REG: No, no, no.

    BRIAN: Otters' noses?

    REG: I don't want any of that Roman rubbish.

    JUDITH: Why don't you sell proper food?

    BRIAN: Proper food?

    REG: Yeah, not those rich imperial

  • by mi (197448) on Monday January 06, 2014 @12:00AM (#45875613) Homepage

    If the history's first FDA-like authority approved of giraffe [telegraph.co.uk] even for the Chosen, why should we be surprised, the unenlightened pagans ate it?

    What is interesting in the article is that the Romans possessed the technology — and the economy — to bring such exotics foods into Italy from thousands of miles away in a manner, that, while possibly expensive, was still affordable for the citizenry.

    But we've known of such achievements for ages — Romans, for example, have largely stopped growing wheat in Italy long before Julius Caesar. Because it was cheaper to bring stuff over from Africa. (This made Egypt the place of strategic importance in the later civil wars.)

    • Romans, for example, have largely stopped growing wheat in Italy long before Julius Caesar. Because it was cheaper to bring stuff over from Africa.

      Well, it's not *quite* as simple as that. They didn't stop growing wheat because it was cheap to bring it in from Africa - the patricians (nobles) who owned the land switched from wheat to grapes because there was more profit in wine than in flour. Then, to keep the plebs from rioting, they voted in the senate to have the goverment subsidize shipments of wheat

      • by mi (197448)

        They didn't stop growing wheat because it was cheap to bring it in from Africa - the patricians (nobles) who owned the land switched from wheat to grapes because there was more profit in wine than in flour. Then, to keep the plebs from rioting, they voted in the senate to have the goverment subsidize shipments of wheat from Africa.

        Which boils down to exactly (and *quite*) what I wrote — that bringing wheat from Egypt (and Sicily) was cheaper, than growing it locally.

        Who exactly did the growing is irr

        • Which boils down to exactly (and *quite*) what I wrote â" that bringing wheat from Egypt (and Sicily) was cheaper, than growing it locally.

          Not on any planet where both of us are speaking English or in any reality where you have an IQ above room temperature.

          your attempt to insert the class warfare aspect is noted â" and discarded with prejudice

          Discarding facts with prejudice? That's not a good sign generally.

          • by mi (197448)

            Discarding facts with prejudice? That's not a good sign generally.

            Discarding irrelevant facts is a good thing — and a good sign for a discussion.

            • These facts are very relevant, because they're the reason why the situation arose. And they are facts, which aren't subject to discussion.

  • That's a tall order.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Several centuries before the Romans, the Greeks named the giraffe "Camelopardalis" due to the belief that it was the offspring of a camel and a leopard. This name is retained to this day for the constellation of The Giraffe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camelopardalis).

    While there weren't wild giraffes wandering around Greece or Asia Minor in antiquity, there certainly were in north Africa, and so through trade, the Greeks were familiar enough with giraffes to assign them a Greek name (rather than borrow, s

  • They used to f...k Giraffe before eating them, proof try image search 'secret museum naples'
  • Ocelot spleens. Jaguar earlobes. Wolf nipple chips. Get 'em while they're hot, they're lovely.

  • I thought the distinction behind Pompeii was that it, for the most part, did NOT come crumbling down.
  • Sea urchins, really the ovaries with roe in them, are still eaten in the Mediterranean. This applies to Alexandria in Egypt, and shared by today's Greeks, Italians and (I think) the south of France. They are eaten fresh with some lime juice squeezed on them.

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