What is it … made of?

© Erich Lessing

Thank you for participating in the discussion here and on our facebook page. Many of our readers correctly chose egg shell. See below for information about this ostrich shell container.

A. ivory
B. plaster
C. egg shell
D. porcelain
E. limestone

The hard and impervious ostrich egg shell used to make this container measures 6.7 inches high, 13.7 inches in circumference and .06 inches thick.1 An opening cut into the top of the egg allowed the contents to be emptied before it was fitted with a perfectly shaped circular bronze neck and cylindrical mouth. Bronze straps and a curved handle were also attached by a skilled artisan to protect the container and make it easier to carry (or possibly to hang).

Ostriches were common in the deserts of Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and North Africa in antiquity and were sought after especially for their feathers and for their eggs, which were valued for their size, shape and resemblance to ivory. Ostrich eggs are well attested in burials and tombs in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt as far back as the fourth millennium B.C.E. and became popular trade items throughout the Mediterranean world.

The shells were fashioned into rhytons or water containers, usually with rope or metal harnesses (as in this case) or sometimes painted and hung as decorative objects. Similar containers hang in synagogues, churches and mosques and have been found at sites in Israel, Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Africa. This unprovenanced example, which is dated to the Middle Bronze Age II (1750–1650 B.C.E.), was purchased from an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem; it is now in the collection of the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa.

Posted in Artifacts and the Bible.

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  • Sharon says

    It’s an ostrich eggshell.

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