Strange But True Stories About Animals

A 1700-Year-Old Stink From Roman Times

When Oxford Archaeology carried out archaeological excavations at Berryfields UK, the extent and range of the discoveries were more than anyone could have foreseen.

The site is located close to a Roman roadside settlement along and old Roman road.

The standout discoveries were found in a pit that had been dug close to the Roman road. The pit breached the water-table and had filled with water.

But one discovery was unexpected and unpleasant.

What was in the pit?

When it was being excavated, the pit was still full of water, and this had preserved a remarkable collection of organic objects.

Among these was a wooden basket, leather shoes and wooden vessels and tools, which normally do not survive in Britain. Thanks to being sunk in the well they were “well preserved”. 

Chicken Eggs

Most extraordinary of all was four chickens’ eggs. At least three were whole on their discovery and were extremely fragile. 

The Roman egg is a genuinely unique discovery. Though Roman eggshell fragments have been found before now, this is the only complete Roman egg known in Britain.

The 1700-year-old egg

A 1700-Year-old stink

Unfortunately, although great care was given, the other 3 fragile eggs broke, causing quite a stink at the worksite. Imagine a rotten egg that was laid by a chicken over 1700 years ago! 1700-Year-old Stink!

How did the eggs get in the pit?

Initially, the pit was used in the malting and brewing process, but by the late 3rd century AD, the pit had been put to another use. A special place where the inhabitants of the Roman town and passers-by could throw in coins and other items for good luck or as offerings to the gods.

In the Roman period, eggs had all sorts of symbolic meanings. They were associated with the gods Mithras and Mercury and have connotations of fertility and rebirth. 

Wherever eggshell has been found in Britain, they have usually been found in graves. The eggs at Berryfields almost certainly represent an offering of some kind. They may have been a religious offering or possibly had been placed in the pit as part of a funerary rite.

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