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Pompeii excavation reveals diet of giraffe, sea urchin, flamingo

A view of a paved street on November 14, 2010 in Pompeii, Italy. Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples. The Schola Armatorum, a 2,000-year-old House of the Gladiators, collapsed November 6, 2010.
A view of a paved street on November 14, 2010 in Pompeii, Italy. Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples. The Schola Armatorum, a 2,000-year-old House of the Gladiators, collapsed November 6, 2010.Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Centuries after the deadly eruption of Mount Vesuvius wiped out the ancient city of Pompeii, archaeologists are still making some surprising discoveries about the area and its inhabitants. According to International Business Times on Sunday, a new excavation has revealed some unexpected Roman dietary choices.

Steven Ellis of the University of Cincinnati led the team that made the discoveries and presented their findings in Chicago yesterday at an Archaeological Institute of America conference. Researchers had spent the last decade analyzing 20 building plots believed to make up a row of restaurants and shops, particularly the mineralized remnants of food found in their drains and toilets.

In addition to cheaper and more readily available foods such as olives, fish, nuts, and fruits, those remnants also included some more exotic fare, including sea urchins, flamingo, and even giraffe. What's more, the row of shops in question was located in a non-elite district of Pompeii.

"The traditional vision of some mass of hapless lemmings -- scrounging for whatever they can pinch from the side of a street, or huddled around a bowl of gruel -- needs to be replaced by higher fare and standard of living, at least for the urbanites in Pompeii,” Ellis said in a statement on the team's findings.

The giraffe bone found is said to be the first found in the excavation of an ancient Roman site and indicates that the area had access to food imported from a great distance. Ellis said the presence of giraffe also speaks to the "richness, variety and range of a non-elite diet."

Pompeii was buried by 13-20 feet of ash from Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., when it held approximately 20,000 residents. Previous excavations have revealed the presence of a water system, amphitheater, port, and gymnasium.