The Pizza fresco – Archaeological Park of Pompeii, released

The discoveries yielded at a new excavation site at the Roman city of Pompeii have everyone talking—about the undeniably familiar shape in a beautifully preserved fresco.

Yes indeed, the item sitting on a silver platter in the depiction looks an awful lot like one of the other things the city of Naples is famous for: pizza.

The dig site is located in a 32,000 sq. foot (3,000 sq. meter) “insula” or neighborhood that was first excavated in the 19th century. Archaeologists at the time found what’s been identified as a laundry, and left the rest alone.

Returning to the insula on Via Di Nola, archaeologists have found a bakery oven, a kitchen shrine adorned with serpents, remains of a mattress, exquisite frescos, and skeletons.

“Every room in every house has its own micro-story in the grander story of Pompeii. I want to uncover those micro-stories,” Gennaro Iovino, the co-lead excavator, told BBC.

The building in which these treasures were found is suspected to be a wholesaler, but nevertheless, the wealth of the merchant(s) that ran it is conspicuous. The atrium of the building featured a skylight where lion-headed statues poured rainwater down into a basin, probably surrounded by plants.

The right-hand side of this area has a massive oven that could have baked 100 loaves of bread per day. Without a shop window, Iovino and his team believe the oven made bread for wholesale. It’s here that the fresco of the pizza was first discovered, making a splash worldwide after it was announced in June.

However, the archaeologists remind us, there’s almost no chance it’s pizza since tomatoes are native to South America, and mozzarella hadn’t been invented yet. They hypothesize it’s focaccia bread with toppings.

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In any case, the park director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel points out how the ancient pizza/focaccia sits upon a silver platter, representing pizza’s history as rising from a poor man’s food to crown jewel of culinary invention.

“How can we not think about pizza, also born as a ‘poor’ dish in southern Italy that has now conquered the world and is served in Michelin-star restaurants?” Zuchtriegel said in a statement. 

Also in the building were discovered the charred remains of a mattress in a bedroom, and the skeletons of two women and one child. As often as the well-preserved ruins of Pompeii yield treasures, they also yield tragedies, and it’s all too clear that these three Romans sought shelter from the volcano under a staircase, only for it to collapse on top of them.

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In the middle of the room, another fresco depicts the myth of Achilles who dressed up like a woman to avoid fighting in the Trojan War. In another area, designated as a kitchen, two beautiful yellow serpents coil along a shrine covered in a burnt burgundy background.

For all of the discoveries Pompeii has yielded, a whole one-third of its total space is unexcavated.

“Much of that will be for future generations,” Alessandro Russo, the co-lead archaeologist on the new dig, told the BBC. “We have a problem to conserve what we’ve already found. Future generations may have new ideas, new techniques.”

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