Ancient trade in ostrich eggs investigated
Archaeologists and scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Durham and the British Museum are using cutting edge technology to crack a conundrum surrounding the ancient trade in ostrich eggs.
|Carved ostrich egg from Isis Tomb, Vulci (Etruria), BM1850, 0227.6 |
[Credit: T. Hodos/Trustees of the British Museum]
Several beautiful examples -- both intact and in fragments -- have been part of the British Museum's collection since the nineteenth century.
The eggs were engraved, painted and occasionally embellished with ivory, precious metals and faience fittings. They were found in elite contexts from Spain to Iraq.
The research team wants to find out where the eggs were laid and whether the birds laying them were wild or captive.
|Carved and painted ostrich egg showing hoplites, BM1850, 0227.9 |
[Credit: Trustees of the British Museum]
Detailed study of the eggshells' intricate decoration via scanning electron microscopy will allow the research team to compare carving techniques, helping them understand how they were created.
Dr Alexandra Fletcher, Curator in the Middle East Department at the British Museum, said: "We really want to find out more about how this trade worked. Were eggs gathered from nests in the wild, given that this was a potentially dangerous activity? Or is it possible that ostriches were kept in captivity to ensure the luxury trade had a supply of eggs readily available?"
|Ostrich eggshell fragment ready to be analysed under the Scanning Electron Microscope |
[Credit: A. Fletcher/Trustees of the British Museum]
The famous Assyrian reliefs at the British Museum show that royal 'lion hunts' were staged affairs. Captured lions were released from cages directly into the path of their hunters. Could the ostriches also have been captive creatures?
It is hoped that the information held in the ostrich eggshells themselves will tell us more about how they were obtained, decorated and traded, which will in turn reveal more about both the people who supplied these luxury goods and those who coveted them.
Source: University of Bristol [April 12, 2017]