The “cracking find” was made during excavations led by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in the city of Yavne, in Israel’s Central District. Archaeologists were busy examining an Islamic period cesspit when the unexpected object tumbled into their lap. Eggs shells from even older eras have been discovered in the past, but according to the IAA, never before have researchers found an intact chicken egg like this.
Dr Lee Perry Gal, an IAA archaeologist and expert in the world of ancient poultry, said: “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.
“In archaeological digs, we occasionally find ostrich eggs, whose thicker shells preserve them intact.”
The egg was found with a small crack in the bottom which leaked most of the contents apart from some of the yolk.
Alla Nagorsky, the field supervisor at the Yavne excavation, believes the fowl conditions in the cesspit likely helped the egg stay in such a good shape for such a long time.
The expert said: “Even today, eggs rarely survive for long in supermarket cartons.
“It’s amazing to think this is a 1,000-year-old find.
“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 egg was carefully handled but despite the experts egg-ercising the utmost care, the shell cracked when removed from the cesspit.
What followed was a game of Humpty Dumpty at the IAA’s organics laboratory where the egg was back together by conservationist Ilan Naor.
Luckily, the egg has been restored to its former glory and can undergo a round of testing.
The IAA’s researchers are particularly interested in DNA analysis of its preserved yolk.
The IAA said in a Facebook post: “How did the egg end up in the cesspit? We will never know.
“Interestingly, 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.”
According to the IAA, poultry farming was introduced to ancient Israel some 2,300 years ago during the Roman and Hellenistic periods.
Chickens were also a good source of protein during the Islamic period, from the seventh century AD and onwards.
From around this time, there is a very clear drop in the number of pig bones archaeologists find in the ground – Muslims are forbidden from eating pork.
Dr Perry Gal said: “Families needed a ready protein substitute that does not require cooling and preservation, and they found it in eggs and chicken meat.
“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.”