Archeologists working at the ancient volcanic ruins of Pompeii, Italy, discovered what looked like a painting of a pizza, a discovery that could have rewritten the history of the Italian dish.
The depiction shows a circular, flat piece of dough — but not with the toppings that appear on traditional pizzas today. Instead of pepperoni, cheese, and sausage, this pie was a “support” for pomegranate, spices and herbs, a date, and what appears to be a type of pesto, according to the press release from the Archeological Park of Pompeii.
“What was represented on the wall of an ancient Pompeian house could be a distant ancestor of the modern dish,” the news release said.
Alongside the fruit and bread, which archeologists describe as a focaccia, a goblet of wine sits on the silver platter. The press release says that two primary ingredients for a traditional pizza are missing — tomato and mozzarella. The Associated Press notes that during this time period, neither of those ingredients were available. Tomatoes were brought to Italy around roughly 1500 A.D. from the Americas.
The painting is described as a fresco by archeologists — a rapid watercolor mural painting technique. It’s located on the wall of a house that would have been next to a bakery before Pompeii was buried in ash in 79 A.D. According to Pompeii site director Gabriel Zuchtriegal, the depiction is a perfect example of the “luxury of silver trays” but also of a “frugal and simple meal,” according to the BBC.
This 2,000-year-old painting discovered in the ruins of Pompeii shows what may be a distant ancestor of modern pizza: a flat, round piece of dough with toppings. But it's not a pizza, the archaeologists who found it insisted on Tuesday. https://t.co/nb3ZGLwxSr pic.twitter.com/augPQji381
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 28, 2023
“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,” Zuchtriegal said.
Archeologists made the discovery while excavating the atrium of the house, which had previously been partially dug between 1888 and 1891, but they reopened their research into the location in January, the press release notes. While digging, archeologists also discovered the skeletons of three bodies near an oven.
“Pompeii never ceases to amaze; it is a chest that always reveals new treasures,” Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s minister of culture, said. “The global value of this site, which we are dedicating our attention to, needs to be underlined.”
According to Reader’s Digest, it’s believed that modern pizza was invented in Italy sometime in the 1700s, though, depending on your definition of a pizza, it could date much further back than that. The outlet notes that Persians were baking flatbreads topped with cheese and dates, which parallels the description of the Pompeii “pizza” painting.
Pompeii was well-preserved because of the thick volcanic ash that covered the city after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Roughly one-third of the city remains buried.
“The unexplored city covers an area of about 22 hectares of neighborhoods and houses that [are] still buried under the lapilli and ashes; this is nearly a 1/3 of the whole town,” the Pompeii news release states.