Dig Accidentally Cracks Ancient Chicken Egg Preserved In Toilet Contents For 1,000 Years

1,000 years in a toilet and you can't even make it through an egg-and-spoon race. Image credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

To find an ancient artifact must be a feeling like no other, but handling them is a very different matter. Paleontologists working in the field are no doubt uncomfortably familiar with the painstaking process of moving very old, very ancient, and very much irreplaceable items from the ground, such as fossilized bones and eggs. The Israel Antiquities Authority recently grappled with a more familiar egg than those of dinosaurs, retrieved from excavations in the city of Yavne, Israel. Their find? An intact chicken egg that had amazingly avoided destruction for 1,000 years thanks to having been stored in a toilet. Go figure.

The find is a globally rare one as chicken eggs, being very fragile, are hardly ever found in one piece. The excavations that led to the chicken egg’s discovery were being led by Dr Elie Haddad, Liat Nadav-Ziv, and Dr Jon Seligman and have uncovered a large industrial area that dates back to the Byzantine period which began in 330 CE.

“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. Even at the global level, this is an extremely rare find,” Dr. Lee Perry Gal of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who’s something of an expert when it comes to poultry in the ancient world, said in a release emailed to IFLScience. “In archaeological digs, we occasionally find ancient ostrich eggs, whose thicker shells preserve them intact.”

That the egg was retrieved from an ancient cesspit is thought to be the explanation as to how it has remained intact for all these years. The toilet’s contents (mostly soft human waste) also gave it the ideal conditions for remaining remarkably well-preserved in its one-of-a-kind incubator.

Image credit: Dafna Gazit/Israel Antiquities Authority

In their release, the Israel Antiquities Authority explain that when the consumption of pork products fell under prohibition, chicken eggs and meat became a popular source of protein as a replacement. This switch is recorded in the site’s archaeology, which shows a marked dip in pig bones and an increase in chicken products, such as our toilet egg.

1,000 years preserved in poop does not a hardy egg make, however, and despite the extreme caution and care taken, the egg was unfortunately cracked during its removal. Fortunately, back at the Israel Antiquities Authority’s organics laboratory, conservationist Ilan Naor restored the egg to its former, 1,000 years in a cesspit, glory with hopes future DNA analyses will still yield results.

And they said you couldn’t put Humpty together again.

 This Week in IFLScience

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