Ostrich egg

From Ur, southern Iraq
Early Dynastic period, about 2600-2200 BC

This ostrich egg comes from a grave in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. Until fairly recently ostriches were still seen and hunted in the Near East by Bedouin. In antiquity the ostrich, known for its swiftness and strength, was hunted by kings. The Assyrian monarch Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BC) for example, boasted of having slain two hundred.

While ostrich eggs were used as containers in north Africa during the fourth millennium BC, the earliest eggs so far found from Sumer date to the time of the Royal Cemetery of Ur (about 2600-2400 BC). They probably came from the steppe country to the south of the Euphrates.

Many of the tombs in the Royal Cemetery were provided with ostrich eggs. Most eggs were found smashed, so it is difficult to determine how many whole eggs were cut down as vessels or containers. These vessels, as well as their imitations in gold and silver, could have held food for the dead although eggshell cups were also found in non- funerary contexts.

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More information


C.L. Woolley and others, Ur Excavations, vol. II: The R (London, The British Museum Press, 1934)

R.L. Zettler and L. Horne (eds), Treasures from the Royal Tombs (University of Pennsylvania, 1998)


Museum number

ME 123557



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