An egg from the Roman era with a runny yolk: “We blew when we saw it.” outside

Scientists in Great Britain are at a loss for words to describe how significant their latest discovery is: a complete egg that was laid around the year 300 AD. Under examination, the egg yolk also appeared to be partially runny. “We were really amazed when we saw that.”

The egg likely belonged to a chicken and was discovered fourteen years ago during excavations in Aylesbury, England, between Oxford and London. The fact that it remained intact was remarkable, because the other two eggs the researchers handled broke immediately. There was a sulfurous smell emanating from it. Archaeologists know it is about 1,700 years old because it was found with a woven basket and pottery from that late Roman period.

The eggs are laid in a well, where the humid conditions likely ensured they remained beautifully intact. The eggs may have been a gift from the gods, scientists proudly announced in 2019. But they didn’t yet know how important this egg was.

“A unique discovery”

It wouldn’t be until last August that scientists were truly impressed by what the egg had to offer. Researchers from the University of Oxford and Kent were able to see inside the egg under a CT scanner. And with it the liquid yolk was found. The convex part of the shell also contains air, as in a fresh egg. This has never happened before with such an old egg, which was preserved in a natural way. “It’s a truly unique discovery,” say the Oxford researchers. “I had never seen anything like it. It seemed almost new,” says Edward Biddulph, CNN research leader.

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It’s not the oldest egg researchers have ever found. The ancient Egyptians sometimes gave the dead mummified eggs, which may be more than 1,700 years old. “However, this is the oldest unintentionally preserved bird egg. That makes it fascinating,” says Douglas Russell, curator at the National History Museum in London, where the egg was brought. It is up to the researchers to conduct the next phase of the study.

A CT scan of the egg shows the interior, with a runny yolk and air sac. © Dr. Christopher Dunmore, Center for Imaging for Life Sciences, University of Kent

Exploding egg yolks

Since it’s one thing to know that the yolk is in the shell, researchers now also want to know what they can do with it. To do this, researchers must first remove the liquid very carefully through a small hole. “It’s like blowing an egg, but it’s a much more precise process,” Biddulph says. It should then become clear exactly what type of chicken laid the egg. Eggshells are also designed to be prepared in such a way that they can be stored for a longer period of time. “We can’t wait to see what we can learn from this extremely valuable work of art,” the university said in an online statement.

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Denton Watson

"Friend of animals everywhere. Evil twitter fan. Pop culture evangelist. Introvert."

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