Tracing the Ancient Glass Trade

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Science  30 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5991, pp. 492
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5991.492-a

The development of colored glass and its formation into vessels marked a major innovation in the early Bronze Age. Artisans learned how to heat the two main ingredients, silica sand and a plant ash, in large containers. The plant ash served as the source of soda-lime flux that decreased the melting point of the glass. Colored glass vessels, which appeared about 1600 B.C.E. in Mesopotamia and later in Egypt and elsewhere around the Eastern Mediterranean, became prized possessions. The variety of sites where glass has been found has made it difficult to ascertain the location of the main centers of production and the extent of glass trading. Henderson et al. analyzed strontium and neodymium isotopes in a variety of early glass samples from Greece, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. The isotopic compositions clearly distinguish Egyptian from Mesopotamian glass, as well as glass with different colors within Mesopotamia. The results imply that there were separate industries and distinct sources of materials soon after 1400 B.C.E. The data also reveal details about the glass production and sources of sand and plant ash in each locality. Early glass in Greece evidently derives from both centers, which confirms that there was widespread early trade throughout the region.

Mediterr. Archaeol. Archaeom. 10, 1 (2010).

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