Wesley cracks ancient quest

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AN amateur archaeologist has stunned seasoned experts by unearthing "treasure" they had been hunting for years.

Wesley Bradd was in the middle of a Raleigh International trip to Africa when he discovered a clutch of rare and ancient ostrich eggs which could be tens of thousands of years old.

Archaeologists are astonished at the find by the 22-year-old from Dunbar because they have been hunting for similar prized items in vain for years.

Academics are particularly excited because the eggs carry engravings by bushmen and the shells have been expertly turned into water bottles.

Mr Bradd, who is a volunteer with youth development charity Raleigh International, was taking a break from working on environmental projects in the south-west of the country when he explored a crevasse under a rock overhang and found the three rare egg water bottles.

The bottles were used by San [bushmen] people - the original inhabitants of the area - who drilled a hole in one side of a fresh egg, cleaned it out and, once filled with water, plugged the holes with a mixture of beeswax and grass.

The discovery was made while Wesley was working in the Sperrgebiet, an unpopulated and heavily restricted diamond area.

Two of the eggs were decorated with engravings, with one being additionally touched up with an application of red ochre.

Mr Bradd said he was delighted with the surprise discovery.

"It was fantastic enough to be in the Sperrgebeit, but to come across the eggs as well - that just made the three-week visit all the better.

"I’ve always been interested in archaeology, and the find was really lucky," he said.

"I like to explore my surroundings, which is why I crawled into the crack under the rock, and I was as surprised as anyone to see the eggs neatly stacked behind it. I didn’t realise they were so important until the archaeologist told us what they were used for, how difficult they are to find and that they have been looking for a whole egg for quite a while."

Dr Deiter Noli, of the Namibian National Monuments Council, said: "They may have been there for hundreds of years, but could have also been hidden thousands or tens of thousands of years ago as, under the right conditions, ostrich eggshell is all but indestructible."

It is thought the cache of bottles was left by the San for the return leg of a long journey, but were never retrieved by them. These "nests" were usually abandoned due to a change of route, and are only very occasionally discovered.

In fact, experts say there have only been four similar finds.

A Raleigh International spokeswoman said: "In this particular area, archaeologists have been searching for ten years for an intact egg, and none have been found until now." As the eggs are not threatened by their current location, they have been replaced again, and left in situ pending further investigation by experts. As well as the water bottles, the group also discovered some previously unknown rock paintings, depicting a gemsbock [antelope], hunting bags and a larger, unidentified animal.

Two bushman shelters, pottery, stone tools and a possible implement for hanging meat, as well as a burial site, were also uncovered.

Mr Bradd is playing down the chances of making a similar discovery - but is not leaving anything to chance.

"I'm on a 220km trek for the next three weeks, so I doubt I’ll come across anything like that again, but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled."

Mr Bradd is part of a three-month Raleigh International expedition taking place in Namibia where more than 100 volunteers, mainly from Scotland but also from Namibia, China and Ireland, are working on several projects including the construction of a visitor centre in a petrified forest, a recycling scheme and plant surveys.