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Archaeology

8 ostrich eggs over 4,000 years old found near excavated firepit in south

Israel Antiquities Authority says campsite discovery can shed light on lives of nomadic desert population; experts believe eggs were used for food as well as decoration

  • Ostrich eggs found in the Nitzana dunes excavations, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Ostrich eggs found in the Nitzana dunes excavations, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Lauren Davis, the excavation manager from Israel Antiquities Authority at the Nitzana dunes, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Lauren Davis, the excavation manager from Israel Antiquities Authority at the Nitzana dunes, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • The flint finds uncovered during the excavation. In the left tray: Ostrich egg shell fragments found in the Nitzana dunes excavations, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)
    The flint finds uncovered during the excavation. In the left tray: Ostrich egg shell fragments found in the Nitzana dunes excavations, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Ostrich eggs found in the Nitzana dunes excavations, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Ostrich eggs found in the Nitzana dunes excavations, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • The excavation in the Nitzana dunes, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)
    The excavation in the Nitzana dunes, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Eight ostrich eggs dated between 4,000 and 7,500 years ago have been discovered during excavations in the south of Israel, next to a firepit.

The eggs were found during an Israel Antiquities Authority archaeological dig in the agricultural fields of Moshav Be’er Milka, the organization announced Thursday.

“This is a very important find that — with the help of modern scientific methods — can teach us a lot about the nomadic people of the desert in ancient times,” said Lauren Davis, the IAA’s excavation director.

Davis said the team found a campsite spread over 200 square meters that was used by desert nomads since prehistoric times.

In addition to the ostrich eggs, the excavations uncovered burnt stones, flint and stone tools, and pottery shards.

“Although the nomads did not build permanent structures at this site, the finds allow us to feel their presence in the desert. These campsites were quickly covered over by the dunes and were re-exposed with the sand movement over hundreds and thousands of years,” Davis said. “This fact explains the exceptional preservation of the eggs, allowing us a glimpse into the lives of the nomads who roamed the desert in ancient times.”

The flint finds uncovered during the excavation. In the left tray: Ostrich egg shell fragments found in the Nitzana dunes excavations, southern Israel (Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Davis said that because the eggs were found in close proximity to the firepit, it appeared they had been deliberately collected.

“One of the eggs was found directly in the fire pit, strengthening the understanding that they were used as food here. The ostrich eggs were crushed but well-preserved, despite the fact that they were uncovered in the surface layer,” Davis said.

According to the IAA, ostrich eggs have been found at archaeological sites dating from a number of periods, demonstrating that they held value as a material.

“We find ostrich eggs in archaeological sites in funerary contexts, and as luxury items and water-canteens. Naturally, they were used as a source of food: one ostrich egg has the nutritional value of about 25 normal chicken eggs!” said Dr. Amir Gorzalczany.

“There is sometimes even evidence of decorating and incising on ostrich eggs, showing their use as decorative items. It is interesting, that whilst ostrich eggs are not uncommon in excavations, the bones of the large bird are not found. This may indicate that in the ancient world, people avoided tackling the ostrich and were content with collecting their eggs,” he said.

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