Interpreting Scholarly Articles

The effects of cooking on avian eggshell microstructure

Taivalkoski, A. and Holt, E. 2016 The Effects of Cooking on Avian Eggshell Microstructure. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports


Because it is always true that you should write what you know, the first scholarly article that I’m going to dissect for you is one of my own. This study came out of a larger analysis that I conducted on avian eggshell from an archaeological site in Pompeii. Bird eggs can be identified microscopically by looking at differences in the size and shape of the mammillary cones (the part of the egg that helps to feed the embryo). Since we knew that a lot of the eggs from this site were coming from restaurants, we knew it was likely that they had undergone some kind of cooking process. In order to make sure that we were being accurate in our species identifications, we needed to see if cooking would alter the appearance of the mammillary cones in the egg. So we cooked ourselves a little egg feast: eggs cooked in an open fire, eggs baked in an oven, soft-boiled, and hard-boiled eggs. When we looked at the eggs under magnification, we saw that while in general the eggs were not altered, under the high temperatures of fire-cooking the eggshell was often changed beyond recognition.


Bird remains in general have been understudied by archaeologists in favor of (larger) animals that were thought to play a more “important” role in the diet. In recent years bird bones have become more widely studied, and some interest has been generated for studying bird eggs. However, there is still only a small body of literature on the identification of bird eggs from archaeological sites. Most of the literature that exists is focused on the topic of identifying domestication in eggs, and there is only one comprehensive guide to the identification of archaeological eggshell.


Honestly when we were developing this article, we did not even think about the impacts beyond archaeology. We were so focused on this contributing to our own archaeological work that we weren’t thinking outside of archaeology. However, after its publication, it has become apparent that this research fits very nicely into current research in the field of food science. Apparently understanding the types of deterioration caused by cooking and the impacts of different cooking methods on food structure is a current hot topic in the food science field.




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