‘Extraordinary items’ including a complete 1,700 year old Roman egg that was ‘likely used in a fertility ritual’ have been discovered in Buckinghamshire.
While studying the third century items, archaeologists found four very fragile birds eggs from the period – three of them broke releasing a ‘potent stench of rotten egg’.
The remaining egg is the only complete object of its kind discovered in the UK and was likely preserved as a result of being placed in a waterlogged pit.
The nine year long dig was on the Barryfields housing development site near Aylesbury next to the site of the Roman village of Fleet Marston.
Edward Biddulph, from Oxford Archaeology told the BBC people of the time would throw objects into the pit for good luck ‘much like a wishing well’.
He described it as a ‘remarkable collection’ of organic materials including leather shoes, wooden tools and a very rare basket.
In Roman society eggs symbolised fertility and rebirth and eggshells have been found in other UK Roman sites before – but never a complete egg.
The team behind the discovery believe that the eggs and the basket may have been placed in the waterlogged pit as food offerings in a religious ceremony.
The discovery has been described as ‘exceptional’ by researchers, who say the eggs were a ‘truly remarkable find’.
They were found on a site that borders the Roman road of Akeman Street and is next to the Roman town of Fleet Marston.
Oxford Archaology, who are due to publish a book on the findings at the Berryfields site, say the discoveries have helped create a clearer picture of life in Roman Fleet Marston and surrounding villages.
Researchers have been studying the items uncovered between 2007 and 2016 for the past three years.
They found a range of artefacts and environmental evidence including timbers, organic materials and pottery that highlight details of life in the area.
It’s thought the timber piles supported a bridge that carried the Roman road of Akeman Street over the River Thame.
Researchers say the findings from the dig highlights the importance of livestock, especially horses, to the middle Iron Age and Roman economies.
They say that it sheds light on the character of Roman Fleet Marston which had previously only been understood from incidental finds.
‘Evidence from Berryfields and other sites in the area shows that over time, Fleet Marston found itself at the intersection of several route ways that took travellers into the countryside and on to major towns.’
The team say this put it in an important position as a crossroads for life in the late Roman-era Britain.
“Together with hundreds of coins and other finds [found at other digs], this potentially identifies the settlement as a market-place or administrative centre with extensive trade connections.
‘A role that would be continued in nearby Aylesbury in the medieval period and to the present day.’