Saturday, April 4, 2015

"Easter" Eggs in Antiquity

Painted ostrich egg 7th century BC
Credit: De Agostini Picture Library 

Alice C. Linsley

The first painted eggs were ostrich eggs. The painted ostrich egg in the photo above was found on Cyprus. Habiru/Hebrew priests were living there from great antiquity. Barnabas (Joses) was a Levite and a native of Cyprus according to Acts 4:36.

Painted eggs represented the hope of eternal life or immortality. This is evident from archaeological finds throughout Africa. They have been found in many graves of children in ancient NubiaAt Naqada, a decorated ostrich egg replaced the owner's missing head. This egg is now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In the Oriental Museum there are examples of ostrich eggs which have been decorated over their entire surfaces. Painted or incised ostrich eggs have been found in El-Badari

Ostrich eggs, which are as hard as earthenware when dry, were used in prehistoric times throughout the Nile valley as perfume containers, ablution bowls, and as canteens. Archaeologists working at Nekhen, the oldest known site of Horite Hebrew worship, found a large cache of ostrich eggshells at HK6, a pillared hall. These appear to have religious significance. Painted ostrich eggs have been found in tombs at Nekhen

Ostrich feathers were worn in the hair of warriors and rulers of ancient Egypt, and the Egyptian goddess Ma'at is shown with an ostrich feather in her hair. Using this feather, she weighed the hearts of the dead to determine who would enter eternal life and who would experience the second death (Rev. 2:11, 20:14).

The oldest find of decorated ostrich eggshells includes 270 engraved shell fragments, excavated in the area of Diepkloof Rock Shelter in South Africa. These are between 65,000 and 55,000 years old.

The ostrich represents the Winter Solstice.  This explains why the ostrich is placed between the Bull (symbol of the Autumnal Equinox) and the Griffin Vulture (symbol of the Spring Equinox) in Elihu's discourse on the transcendence of the Creator in the book of Job. The Winter Solstice marks the end of the old year and the birth of a new year.

Abraham's Horite Hebrew people observed the Spring Equinox (March 21-22), the Summer Solstice (June 21-22), the Autumnal Equinox (Sept. 21-22), the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21-22). From the Winter Solstice, the hours of daylight lengthen, and the Sun is shown to be Sol Invictus ("the undefeated Sun"). This is symbolized by the ostrich which hides its head for a time by lying flat against the ground, and after the Winter Solstice, it begins laying its eggs. The wild ostrich, which originates in Africa, produces 90% of its eggs between January and March.

Ostrich eggs were traded by Abraham's ancestors, some of whom were rulers in Kerma, between the third and fourth cataracts on the Upper Nile. These rulers, such as Nimrod (son of Kush), established trade routes that connected the interior of Africa to Egypt, Arabia, Syria, India, and Mediterranean islands such as Cyprus. They traded exotic hardwoods, animals and their skins, ivory, ostrich eggs and ostrich feathers. "Through the wealth built up by this exchange of goods, the Nubians of Kerma became exceedingly rich...." (The Nubians by R.S. Bianchi)

Five decorated ostrich eggs were found in a tomb with dedication to Isis (the goddess based on Hathor). The eggs shown above are in the British Museum's collection. They are embellished with animals, flowers, geometric patterns, soldiers and chariots. Archaeologists usually find the eggs in the burial sites of high-status individuals. Dr. Tamar Hodos (University of Bristol) believes that these were probably "luxury" grave goods. 

In earlier civilizations it was common for the people to regard the King as a representative of his subjects. It was hoped that a righteous king would overcome death and lead his people to immortality. 

In the Eastern Orthodox churches patterned eggs are a central part of the celebration of the Pascha. After the Divine Liturgy people gently click their eggs together in greeting. For Christians, the Easter egg is a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave, and that those who believe in Him will share in His eternal life as citizens of His eternal kingdom.

Related reading: The Egg in ExodusThe Ostrich in Biblical Symbolism; Paleolithic Ostrich Eggshells; Ostrich Egg Water Containers; Paleolithic "Easter" EggsMysteries of decorated ostrich eggs in British Museum revealed; Righteous Rulers and the Resurrection


Jay Eppinga said...

Such an odd thing that people thought to adorn eggs. And that it caught on and was owned by other cultures (particularly the Ukrainians).

Among the various Ainu diaspora, are their cultural oddities (like our Easter eggs) that are shared? I know about the head-dress for the elders, but I am curious if there are other things.

Thank you,
- Jay

Alice C. Linsley said...

Jay, Ostrich eggs were used as vessels, and these were decorated, just as people later decorated ceramic bowls.