1,000-year-old chicken egg in Israeli cesspit dubbed a ‘crisp find’


As part of a rescue dig ahead of the construction of an urban expansion project in Yavne, a city in the Central District of Israel, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) came across some unexpected thing. Discovered in human waste in an ancient cesspool, they discovered a 1,000-year-old complete egg that has been described as “an extremely rare find”.

In addition to the 1,000-year-old egg, the team found three Coptic bone dolls from the Islamic period in the Yavne cesspit. (Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority )

Yavne’s excavation and the millennial egg

The IAA excavations of Yavne uncovered an ancient industrial complex dating back to the Byzantine era that operated for several hundred years. So far, their excavations have been successful. In April 2021, the team found a 1,600-year-old multicolored mosaic decorated with geometric patterns. Hidden under a “whitish patina which had coated it for years”, the IAA used acid to reveal the colorful and ornate design. This amazing artifact is expected to be exhibited in the Municipality of Yavne.

Now the IAA has announced that while digging a cesspool, essentially an old toilet, in the former industrial estate, they came across the rarity of a whole chicken egg measuring 6 cm (2.34 inches ) from above. Incredibly, the 1,000-year-old egg had managed to survive with only a few cracks for over 1,000 years. The time of Israel put this finding in context when they quoted one of the archaeologists, Alla Nagorsky, who pointed out that “even today, eggs rarely survive long in supermarket boxes. It’s amazing to think that this is a 1,000-year-old discovery! ”

It wasn’t the only thing to come out of the old cesspool. According to Haaretz, the other objects found in the small pit, which measured 1.2 meters (4 feet) by 80 centimeters (2.62 feet) and 1.3 meters deep (4.27 feet), have helped scientists date the ‘egg. These included three Coptic dolls buried in the garbage, which were said to have been toys. These types of dolls appear in archaeological records during the time of the Arab conquest of Palestine and Egypt. There was also an oil lamp of a type made at the end of the Abbasid period.

In April, the IAA excavations at Yavne also uncovered an astonishing and colorful mosaic. (Assaf Peretz / Israel Antiquities Authority )

Eggs in the archeology and history of Israel

While ostrich eggs are a common find due to their thick shells, in the history of archeology “few whole chicken eggs have been preserved” due to their fragile shells, explained Lee Perry- Gal, another IAA archaeologist and ancient poultry expert, in The daily mail . In this case, it seems that the 1,000-year-old egg survived because, according to the terms of The time of Israel , it was “kept in the poo”.

The fragile nature of the egg was made evident by the fact that it unfortunately cracked when brought to the IAA labs for further testing. They did, however, find yolk inside the ancient egg. “We’re going to take the leftovers and extract some collagen to try and do DNA sequences,” Perry-Gal said.

While eating chicken is a common occurrence these days, it hasn’t always been that way. Chickens were first domesticated around 10,000 years ago for cockfighting in Southeast Asia and China. However, Smithsonian magazine reported that archaeologists published the first evidence of poultry production in 2015 when they discovered a collection of thousands of chicken bones in Maresha, Israel, “located on a trade route between Jerusalem and Egypt” .

The large amount of chicken bones, which dated to some time between the 4th and 2nd century BC, and the knife marks on them, indicated that these birds had been bred for consumption. Led by Lee Perry-Gall, the 2015 study was published in PNAS. The next time the consumption of chicken in large quantities appears in archaeological records is in the first century BC in Europe.

Going back to the recent discovery of the 1,000-year-old egg, the IAA press release explained that “there is a marked decrease in the percentage of pork bones at sites in the region, reflecting the ban on eating pork” from the 7th century AD. “Families needed a ready-made protein substitute that doesn’t require cooling or storage, and they found it in eggs and chicken meat,” said Dr Perry-Gal.

Close-up image of the 1,000-year-old egg unearthed at Yavne’s cesspool. (Dafna Gazit / Israel Antiquities Authority )

Criticism of rescue excavations in Israel

The Yavne excavation was funded by the Israel Land Authority in preparation for new development in the area. Due to the wealth of historical treasures to be discovered, Israeli law considers that rescue excavations must take place before construction projects. In fact, Israel has an extremely high concentration of archaeological sites, due to the fact that it has been an epicenter of faith and religion throughout history.

Nevertheless, the Israeli government has been criticized for prioritizing development and construction over archaeological remains. In a 2020 article published in Nature, Josie Glausiusz denounced that “hundreds of archaeological sites in Israel are disappearing under the concrete”. In the midst of a huge population boom, Israel is on its way to becoming “one of the most densely populated countries [countries] on the planet.”

The IAA salvage excavation at Yavne uncovered a former industrial area prior to its expansion and development. (Assaf Peretz / Israel Antiquities Authority )

This fact fuels construction and is the reason why “most excavations in the country are salvage excavations,” a term used to describe excavations whose document remains against development plans. In Israel, salvage excavations are managed by the IAA. Uzi Dahari, former deputy director of the IAA, explains that there is a conflict of interest inherent in the fact that “the majority of the IAA budget comes from salvage excavations before construction projects”, most of which are funded by the government itself. .

Others have criticized these rescue searches because of the speed with which they are conducted. “It is not the fault of archaeologists but of the system which forces rapid excavations,” said Raphael Greenberg, archaeologist at Tel Aviv University. Other critics argue that sites related to religions other than Judaism are not getting the attention they deserve and that Israel is using archeology as a weapon against Palestine .

The large number of archaeological sites and excavations in Israel is striking in its size (35,000 sites, according to Nature). Some argue that it would be impossible to uncover this amount of history without the funding provided by modern construction projects. Either way, the speed of these rescue digs begs the question of how much history is being lost due to current politics and population pressure.

Top image: The archaeologist Alla Nagorsky with the 1,000-year-old egg unearthed in Yavne, Israel. Source: Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

By Cecilia Bogaard

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