Thursday, April 9, 2020

Elaborately decorated eggs predate Easter by thousands of years

If you wanted to make an impression on a high-ranking Bronze or Iron Age chieftain, mere jewelry or gems wouldn’t cut it. Instead, you’d present them with an egg—an elaborately carved and embellished ostrich eggshell, to be exact. Such oologic offerings have been found inside the tombs of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern elites who lived from about 2500 to 500 B.C.E., equally thrilling and perplexing archaeologists. Who made them, and how did they wind up in the hands of ancient nobility?

To crack the case, a team of archaeologists and museum curators took a closer look at decorated eggshells in the collection of the British Museum, which includes five prized eggs in outstanding condition. The intact eggs were all discovered in a burial site known as the Isis Tomb in Vulci, Italy, that was uncovered in 1839 by Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Prince Lucien. The tomb dates to about 600 B.C.E. and was filled with other luxury items, including gold jewelry and bronze dinnerware. All five of the ostrich eggs were painted, and four were engraved with repeating geometric patterns (as seen above), animal motifs, and chariots and soldiers.

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