Eggstraordinary artefacts: decorated ostrich eggs in the ancient Mediterranean world

Tamar Hodos*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Decorated ostrich eggs were luxury items in antiquity. They were engraved, painted, and embellished with ivory, precious metals and faience fittings. They have been found primarily in elite funerary contexts from Mesopotamia and the Levant to the wider Mediterranean throughout the region’s Bronze and Iron Ages (third-first millennia BCE). Most scholarship has assessed their iconography to determine craftsman origin, equating decorative style with cultural identity. This is tenuous at best, given how readily motifs can be copied or adapted, and especially challenging for periods in which artisans were reliant on royal/elite patronage and known to migrate between regions, as during these eras. Furthermore, the full extent of the roles of non-elites in the production and distribution of these elite artefacts has never been considered directly. Thus, the role these luxuries played as social actors across a spectrum of society has been overlooked. It is this aspect that the present work addresses. It does so by building upon a recently concluded study that has used isotopic analyses and scanning electron microscopy to assess where and how eggs were acquired in the ancient Mediterranean and the working techniques used to decorate them. The results allow us to consider the role these objects played as social actors upon more than just their elite consumers. This suggests that, as scholars, we must adopt different questions, methodologies, and thus perspectives, to recognise the wider social effects of luxury material culture and its impact upon diverse groups and individuals beyond wealthy consumers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number45
Number of pages7
JournalHumanities & Social Sciences Communications
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2020


  • archaeology
  • history

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