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The Archaeology of Glass

Glass is unnoticeably all around us from the bulbs and fixtures that light up our rooms to the technological devices we carry. It was one of the first synthetic substances that humanity created from scratch by mixing together different ingredients. The earliest glass was created at a time when glassmaking techniques only allowed for the production of items of small dimensions.

The oldest finds of glass are mostly Egyptian, constituted in jewelry such as amulets, beads, and inlays, or other artifacts used for ritual purposes. Early glass was considered a precious material, like semi-precious gems and stones are today.


By around 1500 BCE, Egyptian artisans were making hollow glass vessels. Glassmakers shaped the body of a vessel by winding molten glass around a core made of clay that was later removed when cool. Most early core-formed vessels were the world's first perfume bottles.


The Phoenicians most likely picked up the skill of glassmaking from Egypt, as well as the Near East. They were famous for their enhanced glass products which they then exported around the Mediterranean world.


Glass Head Pendants, mid 4th–3rd century BCE, Phoenician or Carthaginian, Egisto Sani/ Flickr, Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Cagliari

The most well-known Phonecian glass artifacts are unique pendants featuring men’s heads with curly hair and beards, created by core-forming. While all of the pendants share an overall theme, each still has its own distinctive style and flair.


In the reign of the first Roman emperor, Augustus (27 BCE-AD 14), glassmakers began to establish themselves in Rome and other parts of Italy. The colors of the glass used indicate that the makers tried to imitate precious stones such as lapis lazuli and turquoise.


Works cited:

“Glassmaking.” Penn.museum, 2021, www.penn.museum/sites/Roman%20Glass/Glassmaking/glassmaking_intro.html#:~:text=If%20Pliny%20the%20Elder%20%5BNatural.


“Glassmaking May Have Begun in Egypt, Not Mesopotamia.” Science News, 22 Nov. 2016, www.sciencenews.org/article/glassmaking-may-have-begun-egypt-not-mesopotamia.


Woods, Michael, and Mary B Woods. Ancient Construction: From Tents to Towers. Minneapolis, Minn., Runestone; London, 2001.

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