Monday, August 22, 2011

Did this holey jar hold a tasty Roman snack?

The Museum of Ontario Archaeology has a bit of a mystery on its hands. They are the proud owners of a Roman era jar that has been reconstructed. The jar, however, is full of holes and no one is quite sure what to make of it. Here is what the article has to say.

The jar, just 16 inches (40 centimeters) tall and dating back about 1,800 years, was found shattered into an unrecognizable 180 pieces in a storage room at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology. But even after it was restored, the scientists were faced with a mystery. So far no one has been able to identify another artifact like it from the Roman world. "Everyone's stumped by it," Katie Urban, one of the researchers at the London, Ontario, museum, told LiveScience. "We've been sending it around to all sorts of Roman pottery experts and other pottery experts, and no one seems to be able to come up with an example."

One suggestion is that it was a storage jar for keeping dormice alive, the main ingredient in a popular Roman snack.

Another possibility is that the jar was used to store dormice, rodents found throughout Europe; ancient texts suggest the mice were a popular snack for Romans. (One ancient recipe suggests eating a dormouse "stuffed with a forcemeat of pork and small pieces of dormouse meat trimmings, all pounded with pepper, nuts, laser, broth." Then, "put the dormouse thus stuffed in an earthen casserole, roast it in the oven, or boil it in the stock pot.") Urban said the problem with this theory is that dormice jars from elsewhere in the Roman world look different from this vessel. The rodent jars were equipped with a ramp that mice could run along and use to help store food within the holes.

Another possibility suggested in the article is that it was used to hold snakes used in religious ceremonies. Hmm, I wonder if any of these type of jars have been discovered in certain areas of the USA?

You can read the rest of the article here.

If you want that recipe so you can try it at home, go here.

What do you think? What might this have been used for?

Perhaps it was a Roman laundry hamper? The holes would have allowed the odor to escape from the owner's toga, especially helpful after a long evening of reveling with Nero and other notable Roman dignitaries.


  1. I am curious as to the age of the holes. Were they created at the time the pot was made or added at some time later? Were they drilled into the finished jar, or cut out before the jar was fired? The holes look uniform in shape and size.

    There is little knowledge where the jar actually came from according to the article. Perhaps the holes were added much later, were part of an experiment on drilling pottery (thus its shattered state), or used for a more recent purpose.

  2. the non uniform sized holes were put in on the first fire. This appears to be a red clay cast judging by the cracked bottom and top. you cant tell because the glazing step coats both sides and inside the holes. this was once BRILLIANTLY panted as well you can tell even after being found in a bomb crater and 1800 years of neglect later there are still minor traces of it left. there is a site that lets you see closeup photos, life size full colour ones too.

  3. It looks like a type of fountain head to me...

  4. Could it be a man-made beehive for honey?

  5. Its a chum bucket..... For fishing.

  6. Could it be a strainer of some kind?