Searching for the Elusive Origins of Glass

The production of glass goes back somewhere around 3500 years. Or at least we once thought so. Producing glass in those days required skilled artisans, or at least we once thought. Glass products were so expensive that they were reserved for royalty, we once thought. Scientists can tell where a glass object was made from the materials used to make or color it, we once thought. All these ideas about the origins of glass have been thrown into the wind with recent discoveries.

It's possible we will never know who invented glass, or where. The very nature of ancient glass shows that it deteriorates in humid conditions over thousands of years, so there may have been samples from its origins that simply no longer exist. Global trade in ancient times indicates that not only was glass imported, but also the raw materials once used to identify its origin. Therefore, glass found in one country, thought to be made in a second country, could have been partially made in a third country with imported ingredients from somewhere else. Partially made glass was shipped in ingots, as in the image shown above, to be remelted and fashioned by artisans into its final form elsewhere. You see how global trade in ancient times makes the story rather murky.

Throw in the fact that archaeologists once ignored evidence of glass when plundering artifacts, and modern archaeologists and material scientists have their work cut out for them. Yet modern technology that can analyze tiny samples of glass without damaging an artifact is helping scientists to learn amazing things about the ancient glass industry. Read about that line of research and what we've discovered at Smithsonian.

(Image credit: Flickr user Panegyrics of Granovetter)

Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"Searching for the Elusive Origins of Glass"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More