June 16, 2005

Early Glassmaking Site Uncovered in Egypt

WASHINGTON -- What may be one of the earliest glassmaking sites in ancient Egypt has been uncovered in the eastern Nile Delta.

Evidence at Qantir-Piramesses indicates that glass was made there out of raw materials as early as 1250 B.C., researchers from England and Germany report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The reworking of already made glass into finished goods has been documented at ancient sites in the Middle East and Egypt, but the new report adds evidence for primary glass production at this location.

Thilo Rehren of University College, London, and Edgar B. Pusch of Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany, report finding a large number of crucibles with remains of glass inside.

Glass was made using finely crushed quartz powder which was melted with other materials inside the ceramic crucibles, which then were broken to get the glass out, they reported.

The glass ingots "would then have been transported to other, artistic workshops where they were re-melted and worked into objects," Pusch and Rehren reported.

Much of the glass produced at Qantir-Piramesses was red, produced using copper in a complex process, and some of it was blue or colorless.

A large shipment of glass ingots has been found in an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Turkey. The wreck predates the materials found at Qantir-Piramesses, but the ingots are similar in size and shape to the crucibles found at the Egyptian site.

Fragments of similar crucibles have also been found in Egypt at el-Amarna and Lisht, Rehren and Pusch noted.

Caroline M. Jackson of the University of Sheffield in England called the new report "highly significant."

Jackson, who was not part of the research team, said, "Rehren and Pusch convincingly show that the Egyptians were making their own glass in large, specialized facilities."

In a commentary accompanying their report, Jackson says their analysis reinforces the role of glass in Egypt "as an elite material that was exported from Egypt to the Mediterranean world."

Rehren and Pusch's research was funded by the German Research Council and the British Academy.


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Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/