08 February 2017

Medieval funeral poetry on an ostrich eggshell - updated

Archaeologists have uncovered a 500-year-old ostrich egg covered in Arabic poetry. The verses mourn the death of a loved one.

The egg was found in the Red Sea port of Quseir, Egypt. In the fifteenth century, Quseir was a hub for trade between the Middle East and India, and a stop on the pilgrim route between North Africa and Mecca...

The shell is covered with quotations from the Koran and poetry: "It describes the soul's journey from death to life," says historian Dionisius Agius, of the University of Leeds, who is analysing the text.

Eggs bearing Arabic writing are rare, although another was found in Quseir 20 years ago. The ancient Egyptians used ostrich eggs for perfume containers and drinking cups, and the country's Coptic Christians hung them as lanterns in their churches.
Photo and text from Nature, via Erik Kwakkel.

Addendum:  Reposted from 2010 to note that ostrich eggs were also used as a form to create some of the world's first globes, as reported at National Geographic:
A recently discovered globe from the early 1500s, carved onto ostrich eggs, may be the oldest globe of the New World ever identified...

Throughout history mapmakers have turned to creative materials: There have been maps made of sticks or drawn on sealskin, vellum (calfskin parchment), or blocks of wood... But globes created from ostrich eggshells are not common, and for this reason—regardless of its age—the artifact is rare.
I learned about this from the podcast of No Such Thing as a Fish.

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