A well-known riddle compares an egg to a treasure, asking: A box without hinges, key or lid, but inside a golden treasure is hidden. What am I?
And for archaeologists in Israel, eight prehistoric ostrich eggs – believed to be between 4,000 and 7,500 years old – proved to be as valuable as a treasure when they were discovered near an ancient hearth in the Negev, a desert region in the south of the country.
They were discovered during an archaeological dig in the agricultural fields of Beer Milka, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Thursday.
The eggs’ proximity to the hearth suggests they were collected intentionally by prehistoric desert nomads who used the campsite, according to an IAA press release, although further lab analysis will provide more information. about their uses and age.
“We found a campsite, which spans approximately 200 square meters (2,153 square feet) that had been used by desert nomads since prehistoric times,” said Lauren Davis, IAA excavation director, in the communicated.
“At the site we found burnt stones, flint and stone tools as well as pottery shards, but the really special find is this collection of ostrich eggs. Although the nomads did not build of permanent structures on this site, the discoveries allow us to feel their presence in the desert.
Davis added that the campsites were covered by the dunes, keeping the eggs exceptionally well preserved.
The IAA, which told CNN on Thursday that the site was excavated last week, said ostriches were common in the area until they disappeared in the wild during the 19th century.
Their eggs were richly decorated and were treasured items among the elite circles of Mediterranean civilizations during the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Besides being used as decorative items, ostrich eggs were also used at funerals, as gourds, and as a food source.
“Ostrich eggs are found in archaeological sites in funerary contexts, and as luxury items and gourds. Naturally, they were used as a food source: one ostrich egg has the nutritional value of about 25 normal chicken eggs,” Amir Gorzalczany, senior research archaeologist at the IAA, said in the statement.
“Interestingly, while ostrich eggs are not uncommon in excavations, bones of the large bird are not found. This may indicate that in the ancient world people avoided attacking the ostrich and were content to collect their eggs.