Preserved in poop: 1,000-year-old chicken egg found in Yavne cesspit

Archaeologists discovered an extremely rare, almost fully intact 1,000-year-old chicken egg during recent excavations in the central town of Yavne, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

The surprise find was uncovered during the course of an IAA salvage excavation, undertaken ahead of a new neighborhood development, of an ancient cesspit dating back to the Islamic period. According to an IAA press release, the archaeologists were shocked to discover the fragile ancient chicken egg, which was perfectly preserved a millennium ago by being initially pillowed in soft human poop inside the cesspit.

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

Nagorsky noted that “the egg’s unique preservation is evidently due to the conditions in which it lay for centuries, nestled in a cesspit containing soft human waste that preserved it.”

The 1,000-year-old egg from the excavation in Yavne. (Dafna Gazit/Israel Antiquities Authority)

The large-scale archaeological excavations in the area are being directed by Elie Haddad, Liat Nadav-Ziv and Jon Seligman. The archaeologists have so far discovered an extensive and diverse industrial area dating from the Byzantine period, according to the IAA.

“Eggshell fragments are known from earlier periods, for example in the City of David and at Caesarea and Apollonia, but due to the eggs’ fragile shells, hardly any whole chicken eggs have been preserved,” said Lee Perry Gal of IAA in a statement. “In archaeological digs, we occasionally find ancient ostrich eggs, whose thicker shells preserve them intact.”

Israel Antiquity Authority excavations in Yavne. 
(Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority)

According to Perry Gall, “the egg had a small crack in the bottom so most of the contents had leaked out of it. Only some of the yolk remained, which was preserved for future DNA analysis.”

The archaeologists are not certain how the egg ended up in the cesspit, and imagine that they will never know the true reason. Alongside the egg, three typical Islamic-period bone dolls used as playthings were also discovered.

Three 1,000-year-old Islamic-period bone dolls from the cesspit in Yavne (Gilad Stern/Israel Antiquities Authority)

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