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1,000-year-old chicken egg preserved in human feces inside an ancient cesspit unearthed in Israel


A chicken egg surrounded by human feces inside an ancient cesspit for 1,000 years has been unearthed in Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on Wednesday.

The complete egg was discovered in an industrial complex dating back to the Byzantine period, in what is now Yavne.

‘Eggshell fragments are known from earlier periods, for example in the City of David and at Caesarea and Apollonia,’ the IAA’s Lee Perry Gal, a leading expert on poultry in the ancient world, said in a statement.

‘But due to the eggs’ fragile shells, hardly any whole chicken eggs have been preserved.’ 

Also buried inside the ancient human waste was a collection of Islamic-period bone dolls, known as Coptic dolls, that were used as toys. 

A chicken egg surrounded by human feces inside an ancient cesspit for 1,000 years has been unearthed in Israel

A chicken egg surrounded by human feces inside an ancient cesspit for 1,000 years has been unearthed in Israel

The complete egg is about six centimeters tall and had just a few cracks on the shell, but no pieces of the outer layer were missing when it was pulled from the cesspit.

Alla Nagorsky, an archaeologist with IAA, also noted that ‘even today, eggs rarely survive for long in supermarket cartons. It’s amazing to think this is a 1,000-year-old find!’  

Although preserved, the shell was still very fragile and cracked in the IAA’s laboratory when researchers brought it in for a further analysis.

‘There’s not much left. There was barely some yolk left inside, but it’s more or less empty,’ Perry Gal told the Forward.

The researchers hope to extract the DNA inside to learn more about the ancient object. 

The complete egg is about six centimeters tall and had just a few cracks on the shell, but no pieces of the outer layer were missing when it was pulled from the cesspit

The complete egg is about six centimeters tall and had just a few cracks on the shell, but no pieces of the outer layer were missing when it was pulled from the cesspit

Also buried inside the ancient human waste was a collection of Islamic-period bone dolls, known as Coptic dolls, that were used as toys

Also buried inside the ancient human waste was a collection of Islamic-period bone dolls, known as Coptic dolls, that were used as toys

‘We’re going to take the remains and extract some collagen to try to do DNA sequences.’

Poultry farming was introduced into Israel 2,300 years ago, during the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods.

In the Islamic period, from the 7th century onwards, there is a marked decrease in the percentage of pig bones at sites in the region, reflecting the prohibition on eating pork.

‘Families needed a ready protein substitute that does not require cooling and preservation, and they found it in eggs and chicken meat,’ explained Perry Gal.

The complete egg was discovered in an industrial complex dating back to the Byzantine period, in what is now Yavne

The complete egg was discovered in an industrial complex dating back to the Byzantine period, in what is now Yavne

How the egg ended up in the cesspit is still a mystery to archaeologists, who admit they will likely never know the answer.

Also hiding in the pit of human feces were three bone dolls that were likely toys 1,000 years ago.

These Coptic dolls first appeared in Egypt and Palestine around the same time as the Arab conquest.

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The excavations in Yavne are be conducted to clear the way for new residential construction and have been going on for months.

In April, the team uncovered a colorful, 1,600-year-old mosaic that will soon be put on display for the public in the plaza of the city's cultural center

In April, the team uncovered a colorful, 1,600-year-old mosaic that will soon be put on display for the public in the plaza of the city’s cultural center

The artifact is a a colorful mosaic carpet ornamented with geometric motifs

The artifact is a a colorful mosaic carpet ornamented with geometric motifs

Pictured is an aerial shot of the excavation site

Pictured is an aerial shot of the excavation site

In April, the team uncovered a colorful, 1,600-year-old mosaic that will soon be put on display for the public in the plaza of the city’s cultural center.

‘At first, we did not realize that the floor is multicolored,’ Dr. Eli Haddad and Dr. Hagit Torgë, who are leading the excavations, said in a statement.

‘We assumed that it was simple white mosaic paving belonging of yet another industrial installation. But black patches dotted around the mosaic suggested that it was more than one color and prompted us to remove the whitish patina that had coated it for years.

The conservation director went to work cleaning the mosaic with a special acid,’ they added, ‘and to our astonishment, a colorful mosaic carpet was revealed, ornamented with geometric motifs.’



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