A cracked pile of 8 ancient, 4000-year-old ostrich eggs were uncovered near an ancient fire pit in the Israeli Negev desert while making way for new agricultural developments. “This is a very important find that—with the help of modern scientific methods—can teach us a lot about the nomadic people of the desert in ancient times,” said Lauren Davis, the Israel Antiquities Authority excavation director.
“We found a camp site, which extends over about 200 square yards, 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,” she says.
As soon as the nomads moved on the camp sites were quickly covered over by the dunes and were re-exposed with the sand movement over hundreds and 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. (There are still nomads in Israel. Peek inside their tent.)
Ostriches were common in the area from the early prehistoric periods until they became extinct in the wild in the course of the 19th century. Their eggs have been found in archaeological sites from several periods, reflecting the importance of ostrich eggs as a raw material for food and design.
Ostrich eggs were often buried with the dead, used in luxury goods of the ancients and used for water canteens.
Life for a modern nomad in Jordan today
One ostrich egg omelette had the nutritional value of about 25 normal chicken eggs, explained Amir Gorzalczany from the Israel Antiquities Authority, who has researched the subject. “There is sometimes even evidence of decorating and incising on ostrich eggs, showing their use as decorative items. 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 tackling the ostrich and were content with collecting their eggs.”
“The proximity of the group of eggs to the fire pit indicates that this is not a natural chance find but the intentional collecting of the eggs,” says Davis. “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 next step is to put the pieces together like a puzzle, giving more clues perhaps about the ways of the ancients. Other fascinating research from the region includes funerary highways in Saudi Arabia and the desert kites of ancient trappers in Jordan and the region. There are big wows of course for Petra and the Nabateans, but also the lives of every day people are important to learn from.