Bioarchaeological preservation and non-elite diet in the Bay of Naples: An analysis of the food remains from the Cardo V sewer at the Roman site of Herculaneum

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Due to its burial by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, the level of biological preservation in the Roman town of Herculaneum is very high. The recovery and analysis of large quantities of material from the city’s Cardo V sewer has provided the rare opportunity to study the diet of middle and lower class Romans living in an urban context in mid-1st century AD Italy. The sewer lacked an outflow point and instead functioned as a cesspit to collect the human and kitchen waste generated by those living in the multi-storey shop and apartment complex (Insula Orientalis II) situated above. In total, 220 l of soil was examined for carbonised and mineralised material, seashells, eggshells, otoliths and fish bones. 194 taxa were identified, including 94 botanical, 45 fish, 53 shellfish and two bird taxa. One-hundred and thirteen of the 194 taxa can be considered edible foodstuffs indicating a high level of dietary diversity. This article compares preservation conditions with those found in Pompeii and assess diet in relation to these findings. The level of preservation is found to be comparable between the two sites and no major taphonomic biases are observed. The diet of non-elite individuals in Herculaneum is found to consist of a few staple foods that are frequently supplemented by a wide range of other goods. Subtle differences in diet are observable within the sewer assemblage, most likely related to differences in wealth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)318-336
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Archaeology
Issue number3
Early online date12 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Herculaneum, Pompeii, Roman, Diet, Archaeobotany, Mineralisation

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