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What did your ancestors’ ancestors’ ancestors eat for supper?

Plus: How do you ask someone what their vaccination status is without offending them?

Old stones paved road at sunset in Pompeii Archaeological site.
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What did your ancestors’ ancestors’ ancestors eat? If they lived in the Mediterranean, scientists have an answer for you.

In a study published this month, scientists took a close look at the materials left on 134 pieces of ceramic pottery from medieval Sicily. They wanted to know what these trace elements could reveal about the island’s period of Islamic rule between 900 and 1200 A.D.

By comparing isotopes left from fats detected on the ancient dirty dishes and present-day foods used in both Arabic and Italian cuisine, such as eggplant, the researchers draw some important conclusions:

  • People in medieval Sicily enjoyed a varied diet of complex sweet, savory, and salty foods.
  • Rural Sicilians included more dairy and grapes in their diets.
  • Rural folks may also have consumed pork fat in some capacity.

These findings make up just one part of a wide-ranging report from Sarah Wells on a wave of new research that is revealing what Italians and others in the Mediterranean ate some 2,000 years ago.

Hope you’re reading this before lunch. I’m Nick Lucchesi, editor-in-chief at Inverse, and this is Inverse Daily, a dispatch of essential, original science and culture reporting. You can email me anytime at with feedback on this newsletter or what we’re doing at Inverse.

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What did Italians eat 2,000 years ago?Researchers worldwide are using modern technology, like dental or isotope analysis, to better understand ancient diets and food practices. Sarah Wells reports on the wave of research that’s shedding light on the suppers of ancient humans:

Using a veritable cobb salad of technological innovations and new chemical analyses of ancient pottery, bones, and ruins, archaeologists are getting inside some true “ghost kitchens” and discovering how ancient cuisine evolved over thousands of years to create the food cultures we know today.

Read the full story.

Go deeper:

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Substack's comic book problems are just getting started, artists tell Inverse Substack’s move into comic book publishing went about as well as Marvel’s 2017 decision to make Captain America a Nazi. Graeme McMillan has this report:

Inverse spoke with the newsletter startup and reached out to various comic book writers and artists to get to the bottom of the company’s plans to shake up this industry just like it already has in the journalism world.

The truth reveals a fundamental misunderstanding by Substack of how comics work and a troubling decision to apparently double-down on its worst tendencies as it expands its newsletter empire into new territory.

Read the full story.

More from the intersection of comic books and the real world:

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Covid-19 vaccine: Why one question is so controversial — Now that people are returning to physical workspaces, when is it appropriate to ask if someone has gotten the Covid-19 vaccine? Is asking a violation of HIPAA? Katie MacBride explores this topic:

How do you ask someone what their vaccination status is without offending them? Is it a HIPAA violation? Does that even matter?

“Vax shaming” is becoming a serious concern for some of the more polite among us. The term is essentially defined as the act of publicly calling someone out for not being vaccinated against Covid-19.

Read the full story.

Go deeper:


Two demographics may have increased risk for Alzheimer's, study finds — New study finds that subjective cognitive decline, which can be an Alzheimer's disease warning sign, occurs earlier in racial and ethnic minorities. Katie MacBride reports:

A new study, led by Sangeeta Gupta at Delaware State University, involved 179,852 adults in the United States aged 45 or older who self-reported on a measure of subjective cognitive decline.

It involved people across multiple ethnic and racial demographics, and it comes to one unignorable conclusion. The communities that already carry a disproportionate burden in terms of chronic disease — specifically Black and Hispanic people — are most at risk of earlier onset subjective cognitive decline.

Read the full story.

Keep learning:

Winner of Best Comedy Performance (“The Office Christmas Special”) and Winner of Best Sitcom (The Office), Ricky Gervais poses in the press room following the British Academy Television Awards on April 18, 2004, in London. Gervais turns 60 today.

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