A speckled egg dating back to Roman times still has the liquid yolk and white inside intact, new analysis shows.
The “rare and exciting” artefact, dating back 1,700 years, was found in Berryfields, northwest of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.
It was approximately 4 cm (1.5 in) wide and was in a waterlogged pit, which is believed to have aided the egg’s incredible preservation.
DGB Conservation archaeologist Dana Goodburn-Brown performed a micro-CT scan of the egg, which confirmed it is still filled with liquid and an air bubble.
“It was an exciting moment when we first saw the air bubble inside and then we decided to turn the egg and look again to see if the bubble moved, and it did,” he told MailOnline.
An egg found in Buckinghamshire dating back to Roman times still has its liquid inside intact, new analysis shows
‘We have decided that it is best not to carry out any invasive treatment for the egg because it is very rare and its contents possibly have enormous scientific value.
“Egg shells are porous and anything placed on the surface of the shell could also contaminate the contents inside.”
Eggshells have been found at other Roman sites in the UK before, but never a complete egg, let alone one with liquid preserved inside.
The egg was one of four discovered during excavations at Berryfields between 2007 and 2016 ahead of new development.
They were part of an “extraordinary” collection of items, which also included a woven basket, ceramic vessels, coins, leather shoes and animal bones.
However, three of the eggs broke, releasing a “powerful rotten egg stench”, described as “unforgettable” and “incredibly sulfurous” by those present.
According to Mrs Goodburn-Brown, the egg was probably preserved as a result of being placed in a waterlogged well.
“Organic materials and liquids normally do not survive the passage of time unless special circumstances exist, such as being sealed with clay or mud and without circulating oxygen,” he told MailOnline.
The egg was one of four discovered during excavations at Berryfields between 2007 and 2016 ahead of the construction of a new housing estate.
The eggs were part of an “extraordinary” collection of objects, which also included a woven basket, ceramic vessels, coins, leather shoes and animal bones.
“Flood conditions at the Buckinghamshire archaeological site preserved the eggs in situ, as well as the nearby remains of a fragile wooden basket.”
Oxford Archaeology, which supervised the excavations, said someone may have placed the eggs inside the basket and into a Roman well for good luck, much like today’s wishing wells.
In Roman society, eggs symbolized fertility and rebirth, so it is possible that they were somehow related to another object placed there at the same time.
The egg was recently taken to the Natural History Museum in London for the expert opinion of Douglas Russell, the museum’s senior curator of eggs and bird nests.
Russell said the “fascinating” and “possibly unique” object was probably “unintentionally preserved by the conditions of the soil in which it was found.”
‘There are older eggs with content; for example, the NHM has a number of mummified bird eggs, probably excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie from the Sacred Animal Catacombs at Denderah, Upper Egypt, in 1898, which may be older.
The team found four complete eggs in the well, but because they were so fragile, three of them broke, releasing a “powerful rotten egg stench”, he told the BBC.
“However, this is the oldest unintentionally preserved bird egg I have ever seen. That makes it fascinating.
“In the future, it will be very exciting to see if we can use any of the modern imaging and analysis techniques available here at the NHM to shed more light on exactly which species laid the eggs and their potential archaeological significance.”
The egg is now in the Discover Bucks Museum in Aylesbury.
Now researchers aim to extract the liquid contents of the egg without breaking the shell, although exactly how to do this is another question.
One option might be to make a thin incision in the shell to drain the contents, although this could cause.
“It’s a bit like blowing an egg, but it’s obviously a much finer process,” said Edward Biddulph, senior project manager at Oxford Archaeology. BBC.
“There is enormous potential for future scientific research and this is the next stage in the life of this extraordinary egg.”