Ostrich Egg Container – Southern Africa

Ostrich eggs decorated with imagery are an ancient form of art in Africa's southern reaches. Designs were incised and picked into the surface of the egg with a sharp implement, then blackened with ash. This example is adorned with a large, eight-legged zoomorphic design with spreading appendages, believed to possibly represent a praying mantis, spanning almost the full height of the egg. The opposite side bears a geometric design of contiguous triangles, darkened with oblong spots, that suggests an abstracted avian form. A small wooden stopper is found at the top of the egg.

Kalahari Bushmen gather eggs from ostrich nests and empty the contents of the egg through a hole drilled in one end, repurposing the egg as a water flask. The practice is not unique to present-day Bushmen and in fact dates to prehistoric times. Clusters of whole ostrich eggshell flasks with grass or beeswax stoppers have been found stashed in the arid landscapes of southwest Africa, and fragments are included in the earliest archaeological deposits found in these areas.

Late 19th or early 20th century
Ostrich egg, ash
7” h  4.75” w
Provenance: Private USA collection
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