30 January 2002
Each summer, a team of more than 100 people from 30 countries descends on Pompeii to study the lives of the people who lived there centuries ago.
Since 1994, the team, led by University of Bradford archaeologists Rick Jones and Damian Robinson, has been studying a complete block of the ancient city, Insula VI,1, applying the full range of modern archaeological methods through excavation and architectural analysis.
The project has revealed that while the rich got richer, the poor became poorer.
Analyses of tiny traces of bones and seeds show that the rich enjoyed a diet of expensive fish and the team is currently looking at a production and supply area where six fish tanks have been discovered.
The tanks, which measure about 1m deep and half metre wide, date back to the second century BC and it is thought they may have been used to create a fish-based sauce called Garum, a favourite of the affluent.
The pungent sauce, which is made by leaving fish to rot in salted water, was used as a condiment to meals. The production was big business - from around the first century BC to the end of the Roman period, Garum was shipped around in large quantities and probably produced in salting plants outside the city.
Bradford archaeologists suspected the six tanks may have been used for small-scale production to make Garum, but they have never been able to prove this.
The tanks may have been filled with water to keep fish fresh prior to sale at market. But, in an amazing twist, the team has discovered an intact fish skeleton, about the size of a sardine, in the residue of one of the tanks. This is now being studied by Dr Andrew Jones, Lecturer in Archaeological Sciences. The find appears to back up the theory that the fish was left to rot in the tanks to make sauce. However, further tests need to be carried out in Bradford before this theory proves conclusive.
Dr Andrew Jones (seated) examining the complete fish skeleton.
More importantly, although the excavations have found many hundreds of ancient fish bones, this is the first intact fish to be discovered in the city.
Dr Rick Jones, of the University's Department of Archaeological Sciences, said: "In this part of Pompeii we are dealing with some of the richest people of the city. They extended their home to take over what had been three or four small houses. The big house was made ever more luxurious - with elaborate gardens and water fountains, while the poor were squeezed into living in small shops and workshops.
"Because fish rots so quickly it becomes expensive. It was the food of the rich, and the Pompeians had pictures on their walls of the fish species they were actually eating.
"To find a complete fish together like this is an exciting find. It means we can move on a step in understanding what people were actually doing in the city. The tanks we've found along the street were all built at the same time, then they go out of use, also at the same time. Whatever exactly it was they were doing, was suddenly stopped."
The Project's work is building an unparalleled understanding of the social range of the ancient urban community and revealing how this was created over five centuries. There is clear evidence for social inequality increasing sharply from the first century BC. So far the team has completed the investigation of the House of the Vestals, one of the largest and most luxurious houses of the city. It has also begun research on the insula's inn, bars and workshops. This year, they will continue in the commercial properties and in another large residence, the House of the Surgeon.
Rick said: "The questions we're asking are 'What was the life of Pompeii's ordinary citizens? How did economic and social life change in the centuries that led to Pompeii's violent destruction in 79CE?' "Now we're answering them. All our studies give a picture of rapidly changing social dynamics, as the gaps between rich and poor became ever more sharply defined. One sign of this was who got to eat fresh fish and who didn't." ·
Photographs of the dig are
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Last updated 30 January 2002
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