Slice Of Life: PBS 'Pompeii' Pizza Pic Might Be World's Oldest

Archaeologists in Pompeii unearthed a fresco on the wall of a house that may be the oldest known depiction of a pizza.

This amazing find was showcased last week in Episode One of the three-part PBS series “Pompeii: The New Dig,” a documentary two years in the making.

The suspected pizza is pictured on a tray with what looks like a silver wine goblet and some other foodstuffs. But is it a pizza, an ancestor of pizza, or simply a focaccia?

The archaeologists in the show do not know for sure, but Pompeii is just 15 miles from Naples, which is generally acknowledged as the birthplace of the modern pizza. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

But wait, there’s more. This whole series, which reports on the very latest discoveries in the ruined city, is fascinating from end to end and through and through. 



It premiered last Wednesday (May 15) and continues this Wednesday (May 22) and next Wednesday (May 29).

Although thousands perished nearly 2,000 years ago to make it possible, Pompeii today is an archaeologist’s dream.

The show demonstrates again and again that all kinds of finds are just a few feet away under a meter or so of pumice pebbles.

The destruction of Pompeii from the eruption in 79 A.D. of nearby Mount Vesuvius might be the most famous natural disaster in the history of the world. 

One expert on volcanos in the show says it is the most significant and largest volcanic eruption ever recorded.

The plume of stone and ash that blew the top off the mountain is believed to have reached 21 kilometers in height, or just shy of 69,000 feet.

That is significantly higher than the altitudes reached by commercial airlines, which generally fly between 31,000 and 42,000 feet in the air, according to an internet search.

The blast’s detritus was carried on the wind to the city of Pompeii, where it fell from the sky and buried almost the entire city and anyone who was unable to escape.

The city remained buried for well over 1,000 years until the ruins were discovered near the end of the 1500s. 

Archaeology over the centuries has uncovered a city that,for all intents and purposes is still intact, although none of its structures have roofs.

The roofs caved in under the weight of stone. One of the astonishing finds seen in last week’s Episode One, subtitled “The Bodies,” were the crushed skeletons of two women who may have been taking shelter when the roof caved in on them.

Pompeii is famous for the frescoes depicting everyday life that have already been found in many of the best homes unearthed in this prosperous city of well-to-do merchants.

But the supply of these frescoed walls increases with every dig. Besides the pizza fresco, a number of others, like the one pictured above, get unearthed and restored (basically cleaned with gentle applications of a mild alcohol solution) on “The New Dig.”

But frescoes are only part of the picture. In one scene, archaeologists who have uncovered a water cistern in the courtyard of a luxurious villa take us on a tour of well-preserved plumbing whose pipes and valves look like they could have been installed last week.

Pompeii continues to be a source of fascination for millions across the globe. And so it should be.

From the plumbing to the pizza, we learn once again that ancient people need not be strangers to us, for we are them, and they are us.

The next two parts of the three-part “Pompeii: The New Dig” air on the next Wednesdays, May 22 and May 29, at 10 p.m. Eastern on PBS.

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