Ancient Glass - Phoenician Science
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Ancient Glass

Phoenician glass
Core-formed Phoenician
glass bottle (400s BC)

People make glass by melting a particular kind of sand in a fire. This is sand that has a lot of silica in it. People have been using naturally occurring glass since the Stone Age, when they wanted an especially sharp edge on a tool or an arrowhead. Obsidian is a natural glass which forms when sand shoots out of a volcano during an eruption and is heated by the hot gases until it melts into glass. You find it in the Aegean islands between Greece and Turkey, where there are a lot of volcanoes. Even in the Stone Age, people used to sail there specially to get the obsidian.
It wasn't until around 2500 BC that people began to make glass for themselves. The first glass was little glass beads, which people used for necklaces. Later they learned to make strings of glass, which you could wrap around a clay pot to decorate it. All through West Asia and ancient Egypt, people used this kind of glass.

By about 700 BC the Phoenicians (who were very good at glass working) could make core-formed glass perfume bottles. You made a solid bottle-shaped core out of clay, and then you wrapped lots of these glass strings around it, until it was all covered in them (kind of like a rubberband ball). Then you let it cool and scraped out the clay to make a glass bottle.
But this way of making glass bottles took a long time, and so glass was only used for jewelry and fancy bottles for a long time.

By 300 BC, traders had brought some of these early glass beads as far away as China.

More about ancient glass (glass-blowing)

Bibliography and further reading about ancient and medieval glass:

How Glass Is Made, by Alan J. Paterson (1985). For kids, but it's really about modern glass technology.

Studies in Ancient Technology: Leather in Antiquity - Sugar and Its Substitutes in Antiquity - Glass, by R. J. Forbes (2nd revised edition 1997). Only part of the book is about glass, but it will tell you everything you need to know about glass in ancient Greece and Rome. By a specialist, for adults.

Early Glass of the Ancient World: 1600 B.C.-A. D. 50, by E. M. Stern (1995). Marianne Stern is the leading world expert on ancient glass.

Roman, Byzantine and Early Medieval Glass: Ernesto Wolf Collection, by E. M. Stern and others (2002). Same expert author as above.

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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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