Archaeologists in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii said Tuesday they had found what might have been the precursor to the modern-day pizza depicted on an ancient fresco  — but without the cheese and tomatoes.

A fresco is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a painting done rapidly in watercolor on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colors penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries.”  

The 2,000-year-old painting — discovered in the middle of a half-crumbled wall during recent digs at the sprawling Pompeii Archaeological Park — depicts a silver platter holding a round flatbread, alongside fresh and dried fruits such as pomegranates and dates and a goblet filled with red wine.

Picture provided on June 27, 2023, by the Pompeii Archaeological Park shows the wall of an ancient Pompeian house with a fresco depicting a table with food. The fresco was found in the atrium of a house under excavation to which a bakery was annexed, already partially explored between 1888 and 1891 and whose investigations were resumed last January. 

Pompeii Archaeological Park via AP

“What was depicted on the wall of an ancient Pompeian house could be a distant ancestor of the modern dish,” said experts at the archaeological park in a statement.

A devastating volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 buried the city in thick ash, hiding from view its many treasures that archaeologists continue to slowly bring to light.

Pompeii is only some 14 miles from Naples, which the Reuters news agency describes at “the modern-day home of the Italian pizza, a UNESCO-protected food.”

The fresco is believed to refer to the “hospitable gifts” offered to guests, following a Greek tradition dating to the 3rd to 1st centuries BC and described by imperial Roman-era writers including Virgil and Philostratus.

The Pompeii park’s director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, said the newly uncovered fresco shows the contrast between “a frugal and simple meal, which refers to a sphere between the bucolic and the sacred … and the luxury of silver trays and the refinement of artistic and literary representations.”

“How can we fail to think, in this regard, of pizza, also born as a ‘poor’ dish in southern Italy, which has now conquered the world and is also served in starred restaurants,” Zuchtriegel added.

The new excavations revealed an atrium of a house that included an annex with a bakery, partially explored in the late 19th century.

“In the working areas near the oven, the skeletons of three victims have been found in the past weeks,” said experts at the park.

Archaeologists estimate that 15 to 20 percent of Pompeii’s population died in the eruption, mostly from thermal shock as a giant cloud of gases and ash covered the city. 


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