How archaeologists discovered ‘remarkable 2,000-year-old Roman secret’

How archaeologists discovered ‘remarkable 2,000-year-old Roman secret’

How archaeologists discovered ‘remarkable 2,000-year-old Roman secret’

By chance, POMPEII archaeologists stumbled across a “remarkable” 2,000-year-old Roman Empire secret.

Mount Vesuvius erupted in one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions in history in 79 AD, sprawling a cloud of superheated tephra and gases up to 21 miles in the air.

Pompeii archaeologists made a discoverya

This natural disaster expelled molten rock, pulverized pumice, and hot ash at a rate of 1.5 million tonnes per second, obliterating Roman towns and burying thousands under the burning rubble. However, the horrific incident also covered the city in a dense layer of material, leaving the possibility of discovery to this day.

One such discovery was made in 2014, thanks to the work of archaeologists in Italy, that led to the reproduction of a recipe for a 2,000-year-old sauce called garum.

Earlier this month, Channel 5’s series “Ancient Mysteries” explained how the discovery was made.

The narrator said: “Garum became the condiment of choice across the Empire, used for cooking and enjoyed as a garnish, it was the quintessential Roman ingredient.

The team found hoards of garam stores

“The secrets of why Romans consumed so much of it have remained elusive because it had been thought that the original recipe for garum had been lost to time.

“But now it’s being resurrected thanks to an incredible discovery in one of ancient Rome’s most fascinating lost cities – Pompeii.

“In 2014, Professor Dario Bernal-Casasola and his team from the University of Cadiz began excavating at Pompeii in search of garum frozen in time.” The series continued, explaining how the recipe was deciphered. 

It added: “In an incredible stroke of luck, the team found a garum store and, inside, were 2,000-year-old traces of the sauce itself.

“Now, for the first time ever, an actual sample of garum could be analysed to find out exactly what it was made of with experimental scientist Dr Victor Pallassios.

“Through microscopic analysis, the team found pollen grains revealing that a selection of herbs were used in Pompeii to flavour the sauce.

“And the sample told them exactly what species of fish was used.” Dr Victor Pallassios then revealed the exact ingredients used to make the sauce.

He said: “Surprisingly, even after 2,000 years, it still smells of garum, it smells of fish. “The spices are characteristic of the Mediterranean – rosemary and coriander.

Samples of garum still remained

“The remains have allowed us to study the bones in order to know the species that they were using, we know it was being produced with anchovies.”

Dr Benedict Lowe from the University of North Alabama explained why the discovery was so important.

He added: “Garum is found everywhere, in every house, regardless of wealth. “Everybody was eating it, this was the ketchup of the Roman world.”

The narrator went on to reveal the secrets to the sauce. He said: “The team found that one part of the fish was key to the whole concoction, its intestines.

“These have enzymes that literally digest the protein in the fish muscle, turning it to liquid.  “Archaeologists have found ancient garum-making tanks across the Roman world.

“The fish was left to ferment with salt in the higher tanks, and as they did, the pipes drained the resulting liquid into the lower reservoir, capturing the juice. “The large quantities of salt used in the fermenting process meant the sauce would keep for years.

“The result was a tasty protein-packed shake that provided much-needed nutrients for the mainly cereal-based Roman diet.”

Like the modern fermented soy product soy sauce, fermented garum is a rich source of umami flavouring, including monosodium glutamate.

When mixed with wine, vinegar, black pepper, or oil, garum enhances the flavour of a wide variety of dishes, including boiled veal and steamed mussels.  However, it was also used by peasants to improve the taste of bread.

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