Glass production in Late Antiquity and the Early Islamic period: a geochemical perspective

Ian C. Freestone
2006 Geological Society Special Publication  
First millennium A.D. glass production was divided between a relatively small number of workshops that made raw glass and a large number of secondary workshops that fabricated vessels. Glass compositions reflect the primary glassmaking source. For most of the period, Egyptian mineral soda was fused with lime-bearing siliceous sand to produce soda-lime-silica glass. The location of the Belus glassmaking sand, which is known from the classical literature, is located on that part of the Levantine
more » ... t of the Levantine coast where iron contents are lowest. 87 Sr/ 86 Sr of primary glass from workshops in the Levantine region is close to modern sea water, and confirms the use of beach sand, which contained shell. Heavy mineral assemblages of Levantine beach sands are dominated by hornblende, hence the primary glasses are characterised by very similar trace element signatures. Glasses believed on archaeological grounds to have been made in other regions, for example in inland Egypt, may have higher 87 Sr/ 86 Sr, reflecting terrigenous sources of lime, and have different trace element signatures. Compositional data for glasses from as far away as Britain suggest origins of the glass material in the Eastern Mediterranean. Recycling of old glass may be recognised by the presence of elevated transition metals. The use of plant ash as a flux became dominant practice in the ninth century and preliminary data for plant ash glasses from the early Islamic world indicate that primary production centres may be separated using strontium and oxygen isotopes as well as by major and trace elements.
doi:10.1144/gsl.sp.2006.257.01.16 fatcat:zgjcrwzsgfei7b7ttv2wao6wii