ARCHAEOLOGISTS from Yorkshire believe they may have found an ancient version of Harrods in the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii.
The discovery of unusual fish bones in the bottom of a crushed ceramic jar unearthed from the ash has offered fresh clues to life in the city before it was destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79.
Bradford University is part of the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii, a long- term exploration of a large section of the ancient city.
Archaeologists digging in a building until recently thought to be a soap factory have found the crushed remains of an amphora, a large ceramic jar, containing hundreds of fish bones.
The bones are believed to be the remains of a fish sauce known as garum which was popular in Roman times with the well-off.
Similar bones found in the city before have come from a different breed of fish raising the possibility this was a particularly unusual, exotic or expensive version.
The building it was found in was named the soap factory because of large shallow vats found inside which were thought could have been used to make soap.
But it stands on one of the main roads through Pompeii and experts now think it far more likely the building was a shop, perhaps selling luxurious items like the unusual fish sauce or a distribution centre for goods heading for shops in the neighbourhood.
Dr Andrew Jones, from Bradford University, said: "This is a unique find. It is of major significance."
One of the many questions left to answer is whether the fish used in the sauce were caught locally or imported from elsewhere.
Pottery experts will look at the remains of the jar to try to work out where it was made although that itself will not be proof as it could have been imported carrying one item then reused for the sauce.
Dr Jones said: "We talk about import and export today but 2,000 years ago the Romans were doing exactly the same thing. They didn't have big tankers powered by diesel they had wooden boats powered by sail and rowed by men carrying pottery containers."
Dr Jones said it was possible the jar was actually destroyed in a violent earthquake in the years before Vesuvius erupted with devastating consequences.
Garum was made from fermented fish mixed with herbs and spices and used as a table sauce or ingredient. The smell generated when it was made led to people being banned from producing it in their own homes.
Thousands of people were killed when Vesuvius erupted covering Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum in pumice and ash. The eruption was so sudden and completely unexpected that there was little chance to flee.
The volcanic ash has preserved the buildings and the bodies of people who lived there have left behind casts in the ash, creating a snapshot of life in the ancient Roman Empire.