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Late Bronze Age glass production in Egypt

Egyptian glass is an elite material that has fascinated archaeologists and art historians for generations. Excavations by Sir Flinders Petrie in the 1890s at Amarna has unearthed finds which have dominated our understanding of Egyptian glass working ever since. However, evidence for the production of glass from its raw materials remained elusive, leading to speculation that all glass was actually made in Mesopotamia and only worked in Egypt. Chemical analyses of finished glass artefacts have helped to characterise the raw materials, but failed to reach firm conclusions.

Research by Thilo Rehren set out to identify and explain Egyptian glass-making practice, initially based on finds from excavations by Dr Edgar Pusch at Qantir – Pi-Ramesse, the largest known high temperature workshop complex of Antiquity. Over the course of 15 years it became possible to firmly demonstrate that glass was being made there during the reign of Ramesses II, and to reconstruct significant details of the process. Based on this, a series of laboratory experiments were conducted, testing some of the hypothesis and clarifying further aspects, such as the role of otherwise inert rock salt in facilitating the process, and resulting in diagnostic discolorations of the ceramic vessels used in the glass-making process.

Based on the experience gained at Qantir it became possible to re-visit some of the finds from Petrie’s excavations in Amarna and to demonstrate the primary production of glass there as well, most likely during the reign of Akenathen. This has also enabled us to explain the long-recognized but poorly understood chemical peculiarity of cobalt-blue glass, as a feature of the locally available plant ashes.

Furthermore, the research has provided strong indication for a colour-specific organisation of the LBA glass industry overall, a concept that has proved beneficial in the ongoing study of Egyptian and Greek LBA glass artefact compositions.

Related outputs

  • Smirniou, M. and Rehren, Th. (2011): Direct evidence of primary glass production in Late Bronze Age Amarna, Egypt. Archaeometry 53, 58-80
  • Tanimoto, S. and Rehren, Th. (2008): Interactions between silicate and salt melts in LBA glassmaking. Journal of Archaeological Science 35, 2566-2573.
  • Pusch, E. and Rehren, Th. (2007): Rubinglas für den Pharao. Forschungen in der Ramses-Stadt Band 6. Gerstenberg Verlag, Hildesheim. Vol 1 Text, Vol 2 Katalog.
  • Rehren, Th. and Pusch, E. (2005): Late Bronze Age Egyptian glass production at Qantir-Piramesses. Science 308, 1756-1759.
  • Shugar, A. and Rehren, Th. (2002): Formation and composition of glass as a function of firing temperature. Glass Technology 43C, 145-150.
  • Rehren, Th. (2001): Aspects of the production of cobalt-blue glass in Egypt. Archaeometry 43, 483-489.
  • Rehren, Th., Pusch, E. and Herold, A. (2001): Qantir-Piramesses and the organisation of the Egyptian glass industry. In: A. Shortland (ed.) The Social Context of Technological Change, 223-238.
  • Rehren, Th. (2000): New aspects of ancient Egyptian glassmaking. Journal of Glass Studies 42, 13-24.
  • Rehren, Th. (2000): Rationales in Old World glass making. Journal of Archaeological Science 27, 1225-1234.
  • Rehren, Th., Pusch, E. and Herold, A. (1998): Glass coloring works within a copper-centered industrial complex in Late Bronze Age Egypt. In: D. Kingery & P. McCray (Eds.), The Prehistory and History of Glassmaking Technology, (= Ceramics and Civilization VIII), 227-250.
  • Rehren, Th. (1997): Ramesside glass colouring crucibles. Archaeometry 39, 355-368.
  • Rehren, Th. and Pusch, E. (1997): New Kingdom glass melting crucibles from Qantir-Pira­messes, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 83, 127-142.

Funding

  • DFG (long-term funding of excavation in Qantir)
  • NERC (funding for pilot project & PDRA)
  • AHRC (sabbatical funding, 2006)
  • Several self-funded PhD and MSc students