Archaeologists working in a system of connected sewers and drains under the ancient town of Herculaneum in the Bay of Naples area of Italy have analyzed the human excrement found there and discovered the diet of ordinary Romans included a lot of vegetables and fruits, especially figs, and protein sources such as sea urchins and dormice.
Herculaneum and its neighbor Pompeii were among the towns destroyed by being buried under volcanic ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
The estimated 150 inhabitants of the block belonged to the lower and middle-classes, but analyzing their compacted waste has shown their diet was much more varied than scientists had previously thought. Their diet was essentially a typical Mediterranean diet that included plenty of fish and vegetables, eggs, olives, walnuts, spiky sea urchins and figs. They used the olive pips for fuel.
The deposits tell archaeologists a great deal about what ordinary people ate 2,000 years ago. Until now much more was known about what rich people ate, and there was little information on the diet of people in lower and middle classes. Jane Thompson, the project manager, said the team has so far merely scratched the surface, and there are still eight tons of material to sift through. The discoveries will be exhibited in 2013 at the British Museum in London.
Read more here Ancient sewer excavation sheds light on the Roman diet.