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A 1000-year-old egg

While excavating a medieval cesspit dating back about 1,000 years ago, archaeologists working in the Israeli city of Yavne were astonished to find an unbroken chicken’s egg.

The large-scale excavations, being run by the Israel Antiquities Authority, have also discovered an extensive and diverse industrial area dating from the Byzantine period. The excavations are part of the Israel Land Authority’s urban expansion project in the city.

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“Even today, eggs rarely survive for long in supermarket cartons. It’s amazing to think this is a 1,000-year-old find!” says Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Alla Nagorsky, excavation director at the site where the egg was found. “The egg’s unique preservation is evidently due to the conditions in which it lay for centuries, nestled in a cesspit containing soft human waste that preserved it.”

Archeologist Alla Nagorsky holding the egg. Photo by Gilad Shtern / Israel Antiquities Authority

Poultry farming was introduced into Israel 2,300 years ago, during the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. “Eggshell fragments are known from earlier periods, for example in the City of David and at Caesarea and Apollonia, but due to the eggs’ fragile shells, hardly any whole chicken eggs have been preserved. Even at the global level, this is an extremely rare find,” says Dr. Lee Perry Gal of the Israel Antiquities Authority and a leading expert on poultry in the ancient world. “In archaeological digs, we occasionally find ancient ostrich eggs, whose thicker shells preserve them intact.”

The archaeologists explain that the egg did have a small crack on its bottom, so most of its yolk had leaked out. However some liquid remained, and it has been preserved for future DNA analysis. Other exciting finds were retrieved from the same pit as the egg, including three typical Islamic-period bone dolls used as playthings some 1,000 years ago.

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Photo courtesy Israel Antiquities Authorit

Top Image: Photo by Dafna Gazit / Israel Antiquities Authority

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