Ostrich eggs found around 4,000-year-old ancient fire pit

Israel: Archeologists uncover ‘unique’ site

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The remains of eight ostrich eggs — estimated to be at least 4,000 and as much as 7,500 years old — have been unearthed around the remains of an ancient fire pit in Israel. The rare finds were uncovered during the development of agricultural fields near Be’er Milka, in the Negev desert — some 70 miles south-west of Jerusalem — by archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority. Ostriches were once common in the area, beginning in the early prehistoric periods, but had disappeared by the end of the 19th century.

Israel Antiquities Authority excavation director Lauren Davies said: “We found a camp site, which extends over about 200 square miles, that was used by the desert nomads since prehistoric times.

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

“These camp sites were quickly covered over by the dunes and were re-exposed with the sand movement over hundreds of thousands of years.

“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.”

Archaeologist Dr Amir Gorzalczany, also of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: “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!

“There is sometimes even evidence of decorating and incising on ostrich eggs, showing their use as decorative items.”

However, she added: “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 tacking the ostrich and were content with collecting their eggs.”

There is evidence of this collection in the Be’er Milka site, the researchers noted.Ms Davis explained: “The proximity of the group of eggs to the fire pit indicated that this is not a natural, chance find, but the intentional collecting of the eggs.

“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.”

The archaeologist added that further analysis of the site and the eggs may be able to provide additional information — including narrowing down the age of the site. She said: “After the excavation, we will reconstruct the eggs, just like a puzzle! The whole egg may tell us the species, and exactly what they were used for.

“As far as I’m concerned, every eggshell is worth its weight in gold. I am really looking forward to the research in the labs — the best is yet ahead.”

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Israel Antiquities Authority director Eli Escuzido said: “The collection of ostrich eggs from Be’er Milka is a rare and fascinating find.

“It seems that the eggs survived as they were covered over by the sand dunes for so long, and due to the relatively dry climate of the area.

“The finds will go directly from the excavation to the new analytical laboratory in the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel.”

Here, he added “they will undergo further observation and research.”

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