In AD 79, a baker put his loaf of bread into the oven. Nearly 2,000 years later it was found during excavations in Herculaneum. The British Museum asked Giorgio Locatelli to recreate the recipe as part of his culinary investigations for the cinema production ‘Pompeii Live from the British Museum’.
In response to the many interesting, thoughtful and sometimes amusing comments we’ve received for this video, we’ve asked Paul Roberts, the curator of our Pompeii exhibition ‘Life and Death in Herculaneum’, to give us the academic background:
It was one of the Romans’ great boasts at table that they could serve white flour bread at fine banquets (at normal tables they might well have eaten poorer grades of wheat or other grains, such as spelt or barley, and even beans, lentils or chestnuts.)
You will see that Giorgio scores the loaf: I’ve examined lots of the loaves and I am convinced that they are scored. It’s important to remember that the loaves survived because they were carbonised. They have, in effect, shrunk somewhat from their original form, because of the loss of liquid on exposure to the sudden blast of heat form Vesuvius – conservatively estimated at 400 degrees centigrade. All other foodstuffs – figs, beans, grain etc are noticeably smaller than they ought to be – and there is no reason the same shouldn’t be true of bread.
This could explain why the scoring and the stamp seem implausibly clear – in effect they may have contracted to a smaller (and in the case of the stamp, more legible) form. This carbonisation must, I think, be taken into account and means the loaves when complete and fresh from the oven may have looked very different from how we see them now – not just in colour.