The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on Wednesday that a chicken egg envelope by human faeces inside an ancient cesspit for 1,000 years had been discovered in Israel.
The complete egg was found in an industrial complex dating back to the Byzantine period, in what is now Yavne.
The IAA’s Lee Perry Gal, a leading authority on poultry in the ancient world, said in a statement that eggshell fragments were known from earlier periods, for example in the City of David and at Caesarea and Apollonia, but due to the eggs’ delicate shells, barely any whole chicken eggs have been preserved.
Also concealed inside the ancient human waste was several Islamic period bone dolls, know as Coptic dolls, that were used as toys.
The whole egg is about six centimetres tall and had only a few cracks on the shell, but no pieces of the outside layer were missing when it was removed from the cesspit.
Alla Nagorsky, an archaeologist with IAA, also remarked that even today, eggs seldom survive for long in supermarket cartons, so it was astounding to think that this was a 1,000-year-old discovery.
Although preserved, the shell was still extremely delicate and cracked in the IAA’s laboratory when researchers brought it in for further analysis.
Perry Gal told the Forward that there wasn’t much left, and there was hardly any yolk left inside and that it was more or less empty, but the researchers hope to extract the DNA inside to learn more about the ancient object, and Perry Gal said that they were going to take the remains and remove some collagen to attempt to do DNA sequences.
Poultry farming was introduced into Israel 2,300 years ago, throughout the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods.
In the Islamic period, from the 7th century onwards, there’s a marked increase in the percentage of pig bones at sites in the region, reflecting the prohibition on consuming pork.
Perry Gal explained that families needed a ready portion replacement that didn’t need cooling and preservation, and they found it in eggs and chicken meat.
How the egg ended up in the cesspit is still a puzzle to archaeologists, who admit they will likely never know the answer.
Also lurking in the abyss of human faeces were three bone dolls that were likely toys 1,000 years ago. These Coptic dolls first appeared in Egypt and Palestine about the same time as the Arab conquest.
It was a cracking find, pardon the pun, and I wonder how different the genetics are from today’s eggs.