Archaeologists have unearthed an intact chicken egg dating back to the Byzantine period, roughly 1,000 years old.
During the excavation of an ancient cesspit in the city of Yavne, part of a large-scale archeological undertaking by the Israel Land Authority, researchers were astonished to find the fully intact egg. The site was located in an “extensive and diverse” industrial area of the city which dates back to the Islamic period.
Poultry farming was first introduced to Israel 2,300 years ago, during the Hellenistic and early Roman periods, the Israeli Antiquities Authority stated.
“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,” said the Authority’s Dr. Lee Perry Gal, a leading expert on poultry in the ancient world. “In archaeological digs, we occasionally find ancient ostrich eggs, whose thicker shells preserve them intact.”
Experts believe the anaerobic conditions where the egg was located helped preserve it over the centuries. Yet, experts say it is remarkable to find a chicken egg intact from so long ago.
“Even today, eggs rarely survive for long in supermarket cartons. It’s amazing to think this is a 1,000-year-old find!” said Alla Nagorsky, field supervisor of the site where the egg was excavated. “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.”
The Islamic period, from the seventh century onward, is marked by a decrease in the percentage of pig bones found in the region, believed to be due to the religion’s prohibition on pork. This led inhabitants to seek protein from other food sources such as chicken and eggs.
“Families needed a ready protein substitute that does not require cooling and preservation, and they found it in eggs and chicken meat,” said Gal. “Unfortunately, the egg had a small crack in the bottom, so most of the contents had leaked out of it. Only some of the yolk remained, which was preserved for future DNA analysis.”
Despite the extreme caution exercised during the excavation, and experienced supervision from a conservationist, the egg was cracked in its removal. It was brought to the Israel Antiquities Authority’s organics laboratory where conservationist Ilan Naor restored it to the state in which it was found.
Interestingly, uncovered at the site were three bone dolls from the Islamic period, common playthings a millennia ago.
As for how the antique egg ended up in the cesspit, that we may never know.