Ostrich eggs up to 7,500 years old found next to ancient fire pit in Israel


A well-known riddle compares an egg to treasure, asking: A box without hinges, key or lid, but inside a golden treasure is hidden. What am I?

And for archaeologists in Israel, eight prehistoric ostrich eggs – believed to be between 4,000 and 7,500 years old – proved as valuable as treasure when they were discovered near an ancient fire pit in the Negev, a desert region in the country’s south.

They were discovered during an archaeological excavation in the agricultural fields of Be’er Milka, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Thursday.

The eggs’ proximity to the fire pit suggests they were collected intentionally by the prehistoric desert nomads who used the campsite, according to an IAA news release, although further laboratory analysis will provide more information about their use and age.

“We found a campsite, spanning approximately 200 square meters (2,153 square feet) that was used by desert nomads since prehistoric times,” Lauren Davis, the IAA’s director of excavations, said in the release.

“At the site we found burnt stones, flint and stone tools as well as pottery shards, but the really special find is this collection of ostrich eggs. Although the nomads did not build permanent structures at this site, the findings allow us to feel their presence in the desert.”

Davis added that the campsites were covered by the dunes, keeping the eggs exceptionally well preserved.

The IAA, which told CNN on Thursday that the site had been excavated in the past week, said ostriches were common in the region until they became extinct in the wild during the 19th century.

Their eggs were ornately decorated and were prized objects among the elite circles of Mediterranean civilizations during the Bronze and Iron Ages.

In addition to being used as ornaments, ostrich eggs were also used in funerals, as water canteens and as a food source.

– We find ostrich eggs at archaeological sites in burial 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 around 25 normal chicken eggs, says Amir Gorzalczany, senior research archaeologist from the IAA, in the release.

“It is interesting that although 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 dealing with the ostrich and were content to collect their eggs.”

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