Matt Phelps

An investigation into technological change and organisational developments in glass production between the Byzantine and Islamic periods (7-12th centuries) focussing on evidence from northern Israel

My research will be based on the analytical study of glass from Northern Israel. Raw glass fragments from a number of glass production sites in northern Israel, dating from the 7th to 12th centuries, will be chemically analysed. The focus will be on the technical change in glass production from natron glass to plant ash glass during the transition from the Byzantine to Islamic periods. The techniques of analysis will show changes in technology, raw materials, and will also be able to provenance the raw materials. I aim to gain information about the glass industry as well as how the industry changed between the periods and the social, cultural and economic factors that affected the changes.

The main questions to be addressed are:

  • How the standardisation and variability of glass compositions change through time?
  • When did the technology of glass production change? Was it a sudden transition or was there a preceding reduction in the soda content of natron glass (Fischer and McCray 1999)? Was there any regional variation in the change? How was organisation of the glass industry affected by these developments?
  • How do the early plant ash compositions compare with contemporary glass compositions in adjacent regions such as Syria, the East, etc? How did raw material sources change over time?
  • What factors are likely to have driven the change in technology – changes in trade, lack of natron, political or economic instability, cultural or social changes? What effects did the changes in glass technology have on society, culture and trade in the region? And do the changes to the glass industry in any way reflect the cultural/societal models already proposed for the region during the different time periods?

To answer these questions I will use scientific analytical techniques such as SEM-EDS, electron-microprobe analysis using WDS, and LA-ICP-MS. These techniques will allow me to look at major, minor and trace elemental compositions. My collected data will be compared to data taken from glass production sites around the Mediterranean and to glass compositions published in the literature so that trade and the regional glass industry can be examined.

My other research interests include iron working and slag analysis.

Funding organisation

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council


Research Directory Records

Educational background

  • MSci Honours, Physical Sciences, University College London,  2007
  • MSc Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials, University College London, 2010


Phelps, M. Forthcoming. ‘Scientific Examination of Materials used in the Experiments.’ Historical Metallurgy Society Conference Proceedings.

Phelps, M. Forthcoming. ‘Conference review of the 19th Congress of the International Association for the History of Glass’. Glass News

Phelps, M. Paynter, S and Dungworth, D. 2012 ‘Puddling, recycling or reheating? The Archaeological evidence form Alexander Raby’s ironworks at Downside Mill.’ Research News. English Heritage: Portsmouth p26-27

Phelps, M. Paynter, S and Dungworth, D. 2011 Downside Mill, Cobham, Surrey. Analysis of the Metalworking Remains. Research Department Report Series 47/2011. Portsmouth: English Heritage

Phelps, M. 2011 35-39 South Main Street, Cork, Ireland. Analysis of Medieval Glass Vessels. Research Department Report Series 9/2011. Portsmouth: English Heritage

Phelps, M. 2010 Shinrone Glasshouse, Co Offaly, Ireland. Analysis of 17th Century Glass Vessel Fragments. Research Department Report Series 97/2010. Portsmouth: English Heritage


Phelps, M. 2011. Downside Mill: Analysis of the Metalworking Remains. Paper presented to the Historical Metallurgy Society’s Research in Progress Conference 2011 in Sheffield.

  • Backscattered SEM image of 12th century glass  from Cork, Ireland. Bright flecks seen in the upper part of the  image is calcium antimonate used as an opacifier
  • Crossed polarised light image of copper  melting slag. The red slag is coloured by cuprite (copper (I)  oxide) crystals and the black round objects are metallic prills  of copper. Field of view approx. 500 microns
  • Backscattered SEM image of iron smelting slag. Light grey crystals of fayalite (Fe2SiO4) and mid-grey  blocky crystals of hercynite (FeAl2O4) in a dark grey is glassy matrix

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