Eggs are a symbol of new life but they also have lots to say about the past

Eggs are helping paleontologists and archaeologists unlock Information about the past.

(CNN)Eggs have been laid on land by birds, reptiles, dinosaurs and a few oddball mammals for more than 200 million years.

And humans have been using some of these eggs as a nutritious source of food, and their shells as bowls, bottles and jewelry for most of our history on the planet.
Though they've often been overshadowed by skeletons and bones, fossilized eggshells are a fascinating source of information, illuminating the behavior and diet of ancient creatures, detailing changes in climate and revealing how our prehistoric relatives lived and communicated.
    This Easter, here are six surprising things eggs have revealed about the past.

      Dinosaur body temperature

        Did dinosaur blood run cold, like a lizard, or warm, like a bird? It's a topic that's long divided paleontologists.
        An analysis of fossilized dinosaur egg shells suggests it's the latter. By looking at the order of oxygen and carbon atoms in the fossilized egg shells, researchers were able to calculate a dinosaur mom's internal body temperature. It's a process called "clumped isotope paleothermometry."
          "Eggs, because they are formed inside dinosaurs, act like ancient thermometers," said Pincelli Hull, an assistant professor at Yale University's department of geology and geophysics, and a coauthor of the study, which published in 2020.
          Hull and her colleagues found that the samples they tested suggested dinosaurs' body temperatures were warmer than their surroundings would have been.
          This close-up of a fragment of dinosaur egg shows the tiny holes that allow respiration through the eggshell.
          The research indicates that unlike reptiles, which rely on heat from the environment, dinosaurs were capable of internally generating heat -- more like birds.

          Humans raised the world's most dangerous birds

          A study of fossilized eggshells revealed humans may have been hatching and raising cassowaries for more than 18,000 years.
          You might think that chickens -- or even ducks or turkeys -- were the earliest birds to be domesticated by humans.
          However, eggshell fragments found at two prehistoric sites in Papua New Guinea suggest that humans may have been raising cassowaries -- often described as the world's most dangerous birds because of a daggerlike claw they have on each foot -- as early as 18,000 years ago.
          Territorial, aggressive and often compared to a dinosaur in looks, the bird is a surprising candidate for domestication. But a study of more than 1,000 fossilized Papua New Guinea eggshell fragments has suggested the birds were deliberately hatched.
          To reach their conclusions, the researchers first studied the eggshells of living birds, including turkeys, emus and ostriches. The insides of the eggshells change as the developing chicks get calcium from the eggshell. Using high-resolution 3D images and inspecting the inside of the eggs, the researchers were able to build a model of what the eggs looked like during different stages of incubation.
          The scientists tested their model on modern emu and ostrich eggs before applying it to the fossilized eggshell fragments found in New Guinea. The team found that most of the eggshells found at the sites were all near maturity -- suggesting they were hatched, not eaten.

          Some dinosaurs were caring parents

          An illustration of a baby oviraptosaur curled up inside its egg is based on an exceptional fossilized dinosaur egg.
          The first oviraptor fossil -- from a family of dinosaurs with parrotlike beaks -- was discovered in Mongolia in the 1920s, lying near a nest of eggs thought to belong to a rival. Paleontologists at the time assumed that the animal had died while attempting to plunder the nest and named the creature "egg thief."
          It wasn't until the 1990s that its reputation was restored when another discovery revealed that the eggs were its own. Subsequent finds -- including an oviraptosaur hunched over 24 eggs made public last year -- have revealed that this particular type of dinosaur was a doting parent.
          At least seven of the 24 eggs preserved the bones of partial embryos found inside; it was the first time a fossil had preserved this level of detail. These embryos were at a late stage of development, and the close proximity of the parent confirmed that this dinosaur really did incubate its nest like its modern bird cousins.
          The neat layout of oviraptor nests also suggested that they were brooders that sat upon eggs to hatch them -- even giant oviraptors that weighed 1,500 kilograms (3,307 pounds) and laid half-meter long eggs, said Darla Zelenitsky, a dinosaur egg expert and associate professor in the department of geoscience at the University of Calgary in Canada.
          "These fossils also show very precisely arranged eggs, stacked in rings, probably optimized for sitting on the eggs," she explained.
          The 2-meter-wide (6.6-foot-wide) nests of giant oviraptors were a slightly modified shape to stop them from being crushed, she added.
          Dinosaurs eggs -- including one with a perfectly preserved baby dinosaur curled up inside -- increasingly show that birds inherited many characteristics from dinosaurs. Not all dinosaurs, however, were caring parents.
          Pores on the surface of eggs allow the diffusion of water, oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the orientation, density and number of pores on the eggs of living animals can reveal whether they are laid in open nests or underground. Applying this knowledge to fossilized dinosaur eggs has shed light on their nesting behavior.
          Analysis suggests that many dinosaurs, including hulking plant-eating sauropods, laid their eggs underground in burrows, more like reptiles.

          Eggshell beads formed the first social network