65,000 year old ostrich egg shells with geometric designs
demonstrate symbolic communication among paleolithic peoples in Africa
Alice C. Linsley
Ostriches were prevalent in the ancient world and pieces of ostrich shells have been found at Middle and Upper Paleolithic sites throughout the world. Ostrich shells were used as flasks in South Africa 85,000 years ago (Texier et al. 2010, 2013).
Decorated ostrich eggs have been found in tombs and graves, especially those of rulers and children. They appear to symbolize the hope of resurrection or immortality. In Church tradition, the Lion, the Bull, the Man, and the Eagle represent the four Evangelists.
Because of Earth's precession of the equinoxes it is not possible to know exactly what ancient planispheres symbolize, but there are points in Earth's seasons that are more or less fixed. They fall at different times given one's location on Earth. For example, the Winter Solstice occurs on December 21 or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere, and June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. As the Afro-Asiatics (who gave us the Bible) would have been most familiar with the cycle of the Northern Hemisphere, that will be the subject of this analysis.
The ancient Afro-Asiatics 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 again and the Sun is shown to be Sol Invictus ("the undefeated Sun"). In 12-division zodiacs, 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.
Mircea Eliade has shown that ancient cosmological symbolism involves cycles. Time was regenerated and the cosmogony was repeated on the Winter Solstice, so January (Janus) looks to the past and to the future. The ostrich symbolism is again appropriate. The wild ostrich originated in Africa where this creature produces 90% of its eggs between January and March. In the Church, the egg is both a symbol of new life and the symbol of Christ's resurrection. This is why eggs are decorated and distributed at Pascha/Easter.
The association of new life or rebirth with the ostrich egg has been verified by archeaological finds. Painted or incised ostrich eggs have been found in El-Badari and ancient Kush (Nubia). In the Oriental Museum there are examples of ostrich eggs which have been decorated over their entire surfaces. The largest concentration of ostrich eggs to be discovered in one place in Predynastic Egypt were found at a tomb in Hierakonpolis (Nekhen). In Kush ostrich eggs have been found in the burials of children. In Egypt, ostrich eggs were placed in the graves of the wealthy. At Naqada, a decorated ostrich egg replaced the owner's missing head. This egg is now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.