1,700 year old egg releases ‘potent stench’ on archaeological dig

This intact Roman egg is a unique (but very stinky) discovery 📸 Oxford Archaeology South

Archaeologists discover a Roman basket with four chicken eggs – but three of them broke during recovery, releasing a ‘potent stench of rotten egg’

The things archaeologists have to put up with eh? At an excavation in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, a team of archaeologists worked diligently to reveal a remarkable collection of organic finds dating all the way back to the Roman period. They included leather shoes, wooden tools, and a ‘very rare’ Roman basket containing four eggs.

The basket was made of woven oak bands and willow rods, and its contents were the only eggs known to survive intact from the Roman period in Britain. Unfortunately, they were so fragile that three of them broke as archaeologists tried to recover them, releasing a potent stench of rotten egg across the site.

Archaeologist working on the recovery of the egg basket. 📸 Oxford Archaeology South.

The basket of eggs was found in a waterlogged pit, which is what enabled them to survive.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the archaeologist who had to deal with them!

Eggshell fragments have been found before, usually in Roman graves, but this is the ‘only complete Roman egg known in Britain’ and ‘a genuinely unique discovery’, said archaeologist Edward Biddulp from Oxford Archaeology South in an interview with the BBC.

Eggs were associated with fertility, rebirth and the Roman gods Mithras and Mercury. The eggs and bread basket could have been food offerings cast into the pit as part of a religious ceremony during a funeral procession, Biddulph continued.

He said that from the late third century onwards, people threw objects into it for good luck, like a wishing well.

Some of the other discoveries from the excavation. 📸 Oxford Archaeology South.

As well as the rotten eggs, the excavation uncovered plenty of other fascinating evidence, including a Roman mirror, pottery, belt buckle and horse harness.

The waterlogged conditions also meant that traces of a wooden bridge also survived.

The dig took place between 2007 and 2016, ahead of the development of the Berryfields site, a mix of housing and community facilities. It borders the Roman road of Akeman Street, under the A41, next to the Roman town at Fleet Marston. The site reverted to agriculture after the late 4th century.

The full results of the dig are being revealed after three years of analysis.


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Written by Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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