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6 Examples of Early Fast Food From Ancient History

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Fast food is often derided as a modern scourge, one that has made us fatter and ruined family dinners everywhere. But fast food isn’t an American invention. It’s been around since ancient times. Here are six ways people have satisfied their needs for greasy to-go fare throughout history: 

1. Pompeiian takeout 

The residents of ancient Pompeii did not like to cook, as archeologists discovered when they began to excavate the famously preserved city, which was covered in ash during the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Barely anyone had a home kitchen. Instead, residents of Pompeii (except for the wealthy) ate on the go, at cook shops that functioned kind of like ancient takeout restaurants. These “popinae” had masonry counters inset with cooking pots, and customers might have selected their choice of porridge, ham, stew, and other culinary delights. The walls were often painted with frescos bearing images of the available food items. 

2. Mesopotamian McDonalds

Godin Tepe, an archeological site in western Iran that was inhabited by humans as far back as 5000 BCE, features evidence of takeout windows. A few years ago, archaeologists discovered that some of the buildings in the ancient Mesopotamian town had windows, an unusual feature for the time, around 3200 BCE. The building they excavated contained a fireplace, food remains, and a lot of bowls—indicating that it might have been a takeout joint. 

3. The Roman hamburger

A recipe from Roman times by an unknown author, included in Apicius (a cookbook published in the 4th or 5th century CE), features a dish, Isicia Omentata, that’s fairly similar to the modern hamburger. It was a patty made of minced meat mixed with pepper, wine, pine nuts, and a sauce. They probably didn’t have the option to super-size that, though. 

Modern Roman fast food. Image Credit: iStock

4. Odysseus and the hot dog

The American incarnation of the hot dog didn’t come onto the culinary scene until the 1800s (and the term itself might not have appeared until 1891), but sausages have been referenced in some of our oldest texts. In The Odyssey, for instance, Homer compares a sleepless Odysseus to a sausage rolling around before a fire. There are several variations of the translation, but in one, the passage describes the warrior’s tossing and turning as being like “when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted.”

5. Chinese restaurant culture

In 1200 CE, Chinese peasants enjoyed blood soup, which was both sold at cheap restaurants and featured in upscale banquets. In big cities, vendors sold this and other hot food out of cauldrons and baskets in storefronts that catered to people who worked until late at night. Public restaurants, a fairly rare feature of the ancient world, catered to both the wealthy and the poor, and most restaurants were open late (just like your neighborhood Burger King). In fact, Hangzhou, China may have been the site of the first real restaurant, where diners could order food directly from a menu instead of taking whatever was available for the day. 

6. Endless tamales

Father Bernardino de Sahagun, a priest who served as a missionary and ethnographer during the initial Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 1500s, described visiting Aztec street markets that sold hot sauce and tamales of near-infinite varieties—filled with meat, fish, frog, mushroom, rabbit, and more. Centuries later, in the 1890s, tamale carts would become L.A.’s first blockbuster street food

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Scientists Discover a Mysterious Void in the Great Pyramid of Giza
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The Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest in all of Egypt, was built more than 4500 years ago as the final resting place of the 4th Dynasty pharaoh Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops), who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BCE. Modern Egyptologists have been excavating and studying it for more than a century, but it's still full of mysteries that have yet to be fully solved. The latest discovery, detailed in a new paper in the journal Nature, reveals a hidden void located with the help of particle physics. This is the first time a new inner structure has been located in the pyramid since the 19th century.

The ScanPyramids project, an international endeavor launched in 2015, has been using noninvasive scanning technology like laser imaging to understand Egypt's Old Kingdom pyramids. This discovery was made using muon tomography, a technique that generates 3D images from muons, a by-product of cosmic rays that can pass through stone better than similar technology based on x-rays, like CT scans. (Muon tomography is currently used to scan shipping containers for smuggled goods and image nuclear reactor cores.)

The ScanPyramids team works inside Khufu's Pyramid
ScanPyramids

The newly discovered void is at least 100 feet long and bears a structural resemblance to the section directly below it: the pyramid's Grand Gallery, a long, 26-foot-high inner area of the pyramid that feels like a "very big cathedral at the center of the monument," as engineer and ScanPyramids co-founder Mehdi Tayoubi said in a press briefing. Its size and shape were confirmed by three different muon tomography techniques.

They aren't sure what it would have been used for yet or why it exists, or even if it's one structure or multiple structures together. It could be a horizontal structure, or it could have an incline. In short, there's a lot more to learn about it.

In the past few years, technology has allowed researchers to access parts of the Great Pyramid never seen before. Several robots sent into the tunnels since the '90s have brought back images of previously unseen areas. Almost immediately after starting to examine the Great Pyramid with thermal imaging in 2015, the researchers discovered that some of the limestone structure was hotter than other parts, indicating internal air currents moving through hidden chambers. In 2016, muon imaging indicated that there was at least one previously unknown void near the north face of Khufu's pyramid, though the researchers couldn't identify where exactly it was or what it looked like. Now, we know its basic structure.

A rendering shows internal chambers within the Great Pyramid and the approximate structure of the newly discovered void.
ScanPyramids

"These results constitute a breakthrough for the understanding of Khufu's Pyramid and its internal structure," the ScanPyramids team writes in Nature. "While there is currently no information about the role of this void, these findings show how modern particle physics can shed new light on the world's archaeological heritage."

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For the First Time in 40 Years, Rome's Colosseum Will Open Its Top Floor to the Public
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The Colosseum’s nosebleed seats likely didn’t provide plebeians with great views of gladiatorial contests and other garish spectacles. But starting in November, they’ll give modern-day tourists a bird's-eye look at one of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, according to The Telegraph.

The tiered amphitheater’s fifth and final level will be opened up to visitors for the first time in several decades, following a multi-year effort to clean, strengthen, and restore the crumbling attraction. Tour guides will lead groups of up to 25 people to the stadium’s far-flung reaches, and through a connecting corridor that’s never been opened to the public. (It contains the vestiges of six Roman toilets, according to The Local.) At the summit, which hovers around 130 feet above the gladiator pit below, tourists will get a rare glimpse at the stadium’s sloping galleries, and of the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.

In ancient Rome, the Colosseum’s best seats were marble benches that lined the amphitheater’s bottom level. These were reserved for senators, emperors, and other important parties. Imperial functionaries occupied the second level, followed by middle-class spectators, who sat behind them. Traders, merchants, and shopkeepers enjoyed the show from the fourth row, and the very top reaches were left to commoners, who had to clamber over steep stairs and through dark tunnels to reach their sky-high perches.

Beginning November 1, 2017, visitors will be able to book guided trips to the Colosseum’s top levels. Reservations are required, and the tour will cost around $11, on top of the normal $14 admission cost. (Gladiator fights, thankfully, are not included.)

[h/t The Telegraph]

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