Ancient Non-Stick Frying Pan Factory Found in Italy

The 2000-year-old pottery featured a red coating that prevented food from sticking to the pan.

Italian archaeologists have found a site near Naples where the precursors of non-stick pans were produced more than 2,000 years ago.

The finding confirms that non-stick frying pans, an essential tool in any modern kitchen, were used in the Roman Empire.

The cookware was known as "Cumanae testae" or "Cumanae patellae," (pans from the city of Cumae) and was mentioned in the first-century Roman cookbook De Re Coquinaria as the most suitable pans for making chicken stews.

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However, the pans from Cumae remained a mystery until 1975, when Giuseppe Pucci, archaeologist and professor of history of Greek and Roman art, attempted an identification.

Pucci proposed that a pottery commonly known as Pompeian Red Ware which featured a heavy red-slip coating in the inside, was the "Cumanae testae" from historical sources.

Now Marco Giglio, Giovanni Borriello and Stefano Iavarone, archaeologists at the University of Naples "L'Orientale," have found evidence in Cumae to support Pucci's identification.

"We found a dump site filled with internal red-slip cookware fragments. The dumping was used by a pottery factory. This shows for the first time the Cumanae patellae were indeed produced in this city," Giglio told Discovery News.

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Giglio and colleagues found more than 50,000 fragments of lids, pots and pans of various sizes and thickness, each featuring a very distinct coating.

"All the defective artifacts were dumped here. These pieces help us enormously to reconstruct the way the pottery was manufactured," Giglio said.

Many of the fragments featured the thick internal red-slip coating that provided a non-adherent surface, making the pots and pans ideal for cooking meat-based stews.

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"Apart from the production's defects that made them end up in the dump, all the recovered fragments are of very high quality," Giglio said.

Only 10 percent of the site once occupied by the pottery factories has been excavated at Cumae, an ancient city overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea about 12 miles west of Naples.

One of the first Greek colonies in Italy, Cumae is best known for having been home to sibyls (Greek prophetess) whose cave was rediscovered in 1932. Rome conquered the city in 338 BC; it was then destroyed by the Neapolitans and subsequently abandoned in 1205.

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Cumae's mass production of red-slip cookware made it possible to export these pans across the Mediterranean, from Spain to North Africa, and to France, Germany and Great Britain.

The pan and pot fragments unearthed at the dumping site date to the rule of emperors Augustus and Tiberius, between 27 B.C. and 37 A.D.

Preliminary analyses indicate the clay mixture is different from the pans found in Pompeii. The Pompeian Red Ware featured an anti-adhesive coating of much lower quality compared to the fragments from Cumae.

"Cumae indeed appears to be the main production center of these anti-adherent pans widely used throughout the Roman Empire. Finding a dump like this one is an archaeologist's dream," Giglio said.

One fragment of the non-stick frying pans with internal red-slip coating.

Italian archaeologists have unearthed the largest Roman water basin ever found, right in the heart of modern Rome. Lined with hydraulic plaster, the massive basin was found some 65 feet down near St. John in Lateran Basilica during the excavation of the new metro C line.

As shown in this reconstruction, the water basin was impressive. It measured 115 by 230 feet and could hold more than 1 million gallons of water.

The archaeologists unearthed a road that led to a 3rd-century B.C farm.

In the first century A.D., the basin was added to existing structures, such as water wheels, used to lift and distribute the water, as shown in this reconstruction. The basin most likely served as a water reservoir for crops as well as an area that made it possible to cope with overflows from the nearby river.

The all-woman team of archaeologists led by Rossella Rea found the exact spot where the water wheel was allocated.

The excavation also brought to light various agricultural items, such as a three-pronged iron pitchfork, and remains of storage baskets made from braided willow branches.

Lined up jars with their ends cut open were recycled as water conduits.

Used tiles were recycled to make water canals.

The tiles were inscribed with the encircled initials "TL" -- evidence that the farm belonged to a single owner.

The farm was obliterated at the end of the first century A.D., its structures, including the water basin, demolished and buried.