Ancient Egyptian Glass
Listen to part of a lecture in an ancient history class.
Ok, last time we were discussing trade and commerce during the Bronze Age.
And I said a little over three thousand years ago, there was quite a lively trade among the countries along the Mediterranean Sea.
People are making objects out of bronzes and they were using bronze tools to make other goods.
And they develop trade networks to trade these goods with other countries around the Mediterranean.
One of the things they traded was glass.
And recently there was an archeological excavation in Egypt, on the Nile River around where enters the Mediterranean Sea where they discovered an ancient glass factory.
I thought our textbook said the Egyptians import their glass from other countries.
Well, until now that’s what the evidence seemed to suggest.
I mean, we have some evidence that suggests that the Egyptians were making glass objects, but not glass.
Ok. Am……Am I missing something?
They are making glass but they are not making glass?
I said they were making glass objects, right?
You see, it was previously thought that they weren’t actually making the raw glass itself that they were importing unfinished glass from the Mesopotamia, which today is a region consisting of Iraq and parts of Syria and Turkey and Iran, and simply reworking it.
Most archeologists believed that the glass factories were in Mesopotamia because that’s where the oldest known glass remains come from.
You see, there was two stages of glass making.
The premiere production stage where they made disks of raw glass.
And there was the secondary stage where they melted the raw glass, the glass disks, and created decorative objects, so, or whatever.
And from these new Egyptians’ site, we learned that the primary production stage have several steps.
First they took quartz, a colorless transparent mineral and crush it.
Then they took that crushed quartz and mix it with plant ash.
A plant ash is just what it sounds like, the ashes left after you burnt plant material.
They slowly heat this mixture at a relatively low temperature in small vessels, containers like jars made out of clay.
And that yielded a kind of glassy material.
They took this glassy material and grounded it up into a powder and then they used metallic dye to color it.
After that, they poured the colored powder out into disk-shaped molds and heated it up to very high temperatures.
So that it melted.
After cooled, they break the molds, and inside there were the glass disks.
These disks were shipped out to other sites within Egypt and places around the Mediterranean.
Then in the secondary phase, the disks were reheated, and shaped into decorative objects.
So what kind of objects were people making back then?
Well, the most common objects we found, mostly in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the most common objects were beads.
One thing the Egyptian were very very good at was imitating precious stones.
They created some beads that look so much like emeralds and pearls that was very difficult to distinguish them from the real thing.
Em, and……and also beautiful vessels, ah, with narrow necks.
They were probably really valuable so they wouldn’t have been used to hold cooking oil or common food items.
They were most likely used for expensive liquids, like perfume.
Now the glass made at this factory was mostly red, to get this red color they used copper, in a sophisticated process.
Of course, any kind of glass was very valuable so these red bottles would only owned by wealthy people.
In fact, because it was so difficult to make, and sort of mysterious and complicated, it was probably a product produced for the royal family.
And they probably used glass to show their power.
Also, beautiful expensive objects made great gifts if you are looking to establish or strength the political alliances.
And it is quite possible that the ancient Egyptians were actually exporting glass, not just making it or importing it.
The trade with Mesopotamia was probably a friendly mutual trade because a Mesopotamia glass was usually white or yellow.
So Mesopotamians might accept something like, we will give you two white disks for two red disks.
There is no proof of that, at least not yet.