The Berryfields Roman Egg

HAT, 10 January 2024 - About Archaeology in Buckinghamshire

Work doesn’t end when the archaeologists leave site. Post-excavation works, analysis and publication can take many years, and often research on sites, artefacts and themes carry on long after the site works are long finished. A good example is from Berryfields, a site to the west of Aylesbury, which was excavated between 2007 and 2016 in advance of a new housing estate. Following many years of post excavation works, a monograph was published by Oxford Archaeology in 2019. This wide-ranging monograph presents the results of fieldwork, revealing human activity at the site from the early Neolithic to the post-medieval period, with a particular focus on the site’s important role in the Roman period.

However the work doesn’t end there! During the fieldwork, a large waterlogged Roman pit was excavated, within which was found a number of items, including a cache of eggs, a woven basket, pottery vessels, coins, leather shoes and animal bone. Of particular interest were the eggs, which were a rare and exciting find. Despite the incredibly fragile nature of the eggs, the team on site were able to retrieve one intact (the others sadly broke, emitting an incredibly sulphurous smell!)

© Oxford Archaeology

The egg, likely to be a chicken egg, has recently been revisited and new investigations are underway to see what more we can discover about this artefact. Dana Goodburn-Brown, of DGB Conservation, carried out a Micro CT scan on the egg, which confirmed that it is still full of liquid and an air bubble.

The egg’s Micro-CT scan © Dr. Christopher Dunmore, Imaging Centre for Life Sciences, University of Kent

The egg was recently taken to the Natural History Museum in London to gather expert opinion from Douglas Russell, Senior Curator of the museum’s Bird’s Eggs and Nests collection. Joined by Lucy Lawrence from BCAS, Edward Biddulph from Oxford Archaeology and Dana Goodburn-Brown from DGB Conservation, Douglas and his colleague Arianna Bernucci were as fascinated by the rare egg as the original excavating team had been. We were all amazed to hear that the egg is even rarer than we had realised, and with its intact liquid centre is the only known example of its type in the world!

Dana, Arianna, Douglas and Edward in the Natural History Museum conservation laboratory

Plans are now underway to consider next steps, and to ensure both the research potential and long term storage of the egg are considered. We cannot wait to see what we can learn from this incredibly precious artefact.