A Different Kind Of ‘Easter Egg’

By Bernie Bell

Tankerness House Museum, Kirkwall, has many exceptional ‘finds’ from the Iron Age and Pictish era – one which I particularly like is an object labelled ‘ Egg shaped amulet’ which was found at the Bu of Burray in 1989.  The amulet is made of serpentine rock, looks a bit like some birds eggs, and is estimated to be at least 1,600 years old. 

Imagine walking there, and finding that!  But I can’t see why it’s called an amulet.  An amulet, to me, is something worn or displayed to protect or bring good fortune. 

It might just be a pleasing object – which is as likely as anything – a person carving a pleasing object. Here’s another possibility……….

A few years ago we went round to say ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone we know and she showed me a lovely object which her brother had sent her for her birthday.  It was an egg shaped stone, small, speckled like a gull’s egg.  A lovely thing to hold and play with.  I then asked where I should put it – it didn’t fit in an egg cup, so she said to just leave it in a bowl she has in her window.  I did, and when I placed it in the bowl I span it, clockwise.  It was great – as it span the speckles made circles in the egg – wide circles, and also tiny, tight circles in the middle.  Then when it stopped spinning it looked like it was still moving – maybe it was still moving.  It wasn’t spinning, just quivering, slightly. It may have been an optical illusion, or not. 

This is where I get back to the ‘Egg shaped amulet’ question.  It came to me that this object may have been used for divination.  The ‘Egg shaped amulet’ in the museum, or any similar object, such as the egg shaped stone that I was playing with. 

I wondered if maybe the object was placed in a bowl, the inside of which was marked with sections relating to the different things that you might be asking about, and the idea was  to ask ‘yes’ and ‘no ‘ questions, as with dowsing?   Or, the object could just be placed on a flat surface, and the same idea applies. 

So, in a nutshell – ‘Egg shaped amulet’, or was it a tool for divination?  It could, of course, just be a pleasing object – and that serves a purpose as much as anything else does.


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  1. After this article was published, I received an email telling me that there has been an article in the ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’ about egg shaped amulets as it is not isolated, but one of an assemblage of stone eggs used as a good luck charm by the early Christian church.


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