1,000-Year-Old Egg Unearthed by Experts, Accidentally Cracked Open, They Have To Act Fast

I team of archeologists are hard at work in a city in modern-day Israel. As the experts excavate a centuries-old cesspit they spot something unexpected inside: an animal egg laid 1,000 years ago. Carefully, they pry the treasure from its tomb. But the delicate shell cracks – kick-starting a perilous race against time.

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Now, experts believe that the egg first entered the cesspit towards the end of the Abbasid period, when vast swathes of the Middle East were ruled by one all-powerful caliphate. And for an entire millennia, it lay unbroken and undisturbed beneath one of the most turbulent regions on Earth.

Emergency repair

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Perfectly preserved in the ancient ruins beneath Yavneh, the egg might have carried its secrets into the next millennium. But thanks to the work of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) it has emerged – although not exactly intact. As the shell cracked, experts rushed to repair it before irreparable damage was done.

Before Israel as we know it

Julius Köcker/Wikimedia Commons / {{PD-US-expired}}

What exactly did the IAA discover hiding beneath Yavneh, then? And what kind of creature laid the ancient egg – only to have it unceremoniously cracked open 1,000 years down the line? Well, the story reveals a fascinating glimpse into life under the Abbasid caliphate before successive invasions changed the face of Israel as we know it.

Eddie Gerald/Getty Images

Located some 15 miles from the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv, Yavneh is home to some 50,000 people today. Despite being littered with modern developments, it is, in fact, an ancient city and is the second most important site for post-biblical Jewish history behind Jerusalem. And according to archeologists, it has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age.

Pre-construction inspection

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Despite these historical claims to fame, though, construction work continues apace in Yavneh. And in the southeast of the city, the Israel Land Authority (ILA) has been getting busy building a new neighborhood. Luckily, though, the experts were called in to take a look first, and they were amazed by what they found.

Evidence of ancient industry

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Under the direction of archeologists Dr. Elie Haddad, Dr. Jon Seligman and Liat Nadav-Ziv, the IAA has been conducting an extensive program of excavations at the development site. Interestingly, it has found evidence to suggest that a vast industrial area once occupied this part of the ancient city. In fact, it likely thrived there for hundreds of years.

Proving the theory

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Interestingly, archaeologists believe that the industrial complex was founded during the Byzantine period, before the Abbasid caliphate took control of the region. And recently, this theory has been given weight by the discovery of a stunning mosaic dating back to that era. So, what can it tell us about the city under Yavneh – and the IAA’s mysterious egg?

Oldest mosaic of the area

Israel Antiquities Authority/Facebook

Thought to date back some 1,600 years, the mosaic is believed to be the first of its kind ever unearthed in Yavneh. According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), experts had initially suspected that they’d stumbled across more of the plain white paving that once lined the industrial zone. Yet on closer inspection, the team realized that this was something far more special.

Part of a grand entrance

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“To our astonishment, a colorful mosaic carpet was revealed – ornamented with geometric motifs,” Haddad and his colleague Dr. Hagit Torgë told the MFA. Apparently, the design is incredibly well preserved – despite its impressive age. Experts also believe that it may once have formed part of a grand residential property located close to the industrial zone.

Clues of permanent habitation

TzacHi Guetta/YouTube

Clearly, then, there was more to ancient Yavneh than just production and trade. Might this explain how the egg somehow found its way into a cesspit 1,000 years ago? After all, domestic artifacts such as this one suggest at least some form of permanent habitation.

Egg origins

What kind of creature did the Yavneh egg belong to, though? Could it have been left behind by a great lizard that once thrived during the city’s hot and humid summers? Or maybe the preserved shell was laid by a giant bird such as an ostrich? After all, t

Hardier shells

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, archeologists often find ostrich eggs dating back to ancient times. Apparently, their shells are thick and relatively durable, which likely explains how they are able to survive through the ages. And for centuries, they have been traded as valuable antiquities across the region.

60,000-year-old eggs

Experts revealed an amazing discovery in a 2010 article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America journal. They had found decorated ostrich eggs dating back 60,000 years! Apparently, traders preferred to deal in the shells left behind by wild birds – rather than those raised in captivity.

Preserved in excrement

Though the egg found at Yavneh was plain. If it wasn’t prized as an artistic artifact, then, how did it remain preserved over the years? According to the Times of Israel, the object’s remarkable condition is down to the environment in which it was discovered. In other words, we have human excrement to thank for this remarkable find!

Escaping decay

Apparently, the cesspit provided what’s known as anaerobic – or oxygen-free – conditions, and this allowed the artifact to escape decay. Speaking to the Israeli newspaper in June 2021, IAA archeologist Alla Nagorsky explained 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.”

In this unique environment, the egg survived intact – even as the city of Yavneh grew and the ancient industrial zone disappeared. In a June 2021 interview with Haaretz, Nagorsky elaborated on the significance of the discovery. She said, “We were astonished to find it. From time to time we find fragments of eggshells, but a whole egg is extraordinary.”

“Even today, eggs rarely survive for long in supermarket cartons,” Nagorsky continued in an official IAA statement released in June 2021. “It’s amazing to think this is a 1,000-year-old find.” But unfortunately, despite surviving for centuries underground, the artifact’s luck ran out when archeologists decided to excavate it from the ancient cesspit.

Keen to remove the egg intact, the team called in an expert conservationist to supervise the dig. And slowly, while exercising extreme caution, they began to lift the shell out of the ground. Unfortunately, all their precautions were not enough, and the delicate artifact cracked before it could be safely secured.

Rushing to save the artifact

As the valuable contents of the egg leaked out, experts raced to repair the crack and salvage what was left of the yolk. Fortunately, the IAA’s Ilan Naor – an expert in the conservation of organic materials – was on hand. But was he able to save the ancient artifact in time? Or would the remarkable discovery be reduced to a useless shell?

Salvaging some yolk

Naor managed to have some success, thankfully. While much of the egg’s contents did leak out, he was able to patch up the crack – leaving some of the precious yolk still inside. With this, scientists will be able to use DNA analysis to unravel the story of this astonishing artifact once and for all.

1,000-year-old chicken egg

In the meantime, though, the egg has already begun to reveal some of its 1,000-year-old secrets. Experts have been able to determine that the object was actually laid by a chicken that lived in Yavneh during the Abbasid period. Sure, it’s not the oldest artifact of its kind to be discovered, but its completeness makes the item unique.

The whole egg

“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,” the IAA’s Dr. Lee Perry Gal explained in the statement. “Even at the global level, this is an extremely rare find.”

But without much in the way of contents to analyze, how did the team know that the egg was 1,000 years old? Well, they reportedly used other artifacts unearthed from the 4 by 2.5 feet cesspit to date the find. Among these were three dolls made from bone, which were used by children during the Abbasid period.

Oil lamp seals the deal

It was the discovery of an oil lamp, though, that really helped the team to fix a date to the ancient egg. According to Haaretz, the archeologists knew that this particular artifact came from the late Abbasid era. And because the preserved shell was recovered from a similar location, they felt confident assigning a similar age.

Mysterious placement

How exactly did the egg wind up in a cesspit beneath Yavneh, though? Was it intentionally placed there for some unknown purpose, or could it have been dropped by a careless inhabitant of the ancient city? At the moment, there is no particular evidence to support either theory. Yet we do know that chickens have long lived alongside humans in the region that is now Israel.

Chicken domestication

Gal summarized the relationship between humans and the birds during an interview with the Jerusalem Post in June 2021. She said, “Chickens were domesticated in Southeast Asia relatively recently – around 6,000 years ago. But it took time for them to enter the human diet.”

Once prized creatures

“They were used for other purposes such as cockfighting, and they were considered beautiful animals – exhibited in ancient zoos and given as presents to kings,” Gal continued. In Israel, it seems, experts have been able to trace the domestication of chickens all the way back to the third century B.C.

Notably smaller birds

“Actually, one of the oldest sites in the world where we find evidence of chicken farming is Maresha – a Hellenistic site in Israel dating back 2,300 years,” Gal explained. At the time, she added, the birds and their eggs were notably smaller than the ones that are kept as farm animals today.

Entering the human diet

Despite the long history of domestic chickens in Israel, it’s believed that they did not form a significant part of the regional diet until around the seventh century. Before that, experts suspect, the Byzantine residents of cities such as Yavneh relied heavily on pork as a source of protein. But that all changed when the Islamic era arrived.

From pork to chicken


Clearly, then, the Yavneh egg is a fascinating relic – offering a unique insight into the distant past. And when DNA analysis is complete, it may reveal even more about life during the Abbasid era. But what was it like for the experts tasked with digging around in an ancient cesspit for relics from the city’s industrial zone

Roman-era eggs

Archeologists then spent the next decade excavating the site, which is located close to the remains of an ancient settlement. And by the time that work finished in 2016 they had retrieved a number of historic artifacts from the site – including a cache of four chicken eggs believed to date back to Roman times.

A gift for the gods

But while the Yavneh relic was likely intended for human consumption, its Roman counterpart may have once served quite a different purpose. Speaking to British newspaper The Times in 2019 archeologist Edward Biddulph explained, “Passers-by would have perhaps stopped to throw in offerings to make a wish for the gods of the underworld to fulfill. The Romans associated eggs with rebirth and fertility, for obvious reasons.”

Awaiting DNA results

The humble chicken egg, then, has a long archeological history – stretching from sacred offering to essential protein source. Though what else can the shell discovered at Yavneh tell us about life in this ancient city? While archaeologists await the results of DNA testing, we can only speculate about what secrets might be revealed.

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