Ancient Egyptian glass production: Natural glass, man-made glass, raw materials, techniques
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Natural glassGlass occurs only rarely in nature. Because of its beauty and physical properties it was prized by toolmakers and much sought after by jewellers.
The mainly dark coloured Obsidian, the result of volcanic action was not found in Egypt, but was imported in small quantities from Turkey .
Pectoral of Tutankhamen
Man-made glassEarly fabricated glass lacked the translucency of the naturally occurring glasses, but could be given form and decoration, had permanent colouring and was - unless broken - practically imperishable.
Middle Kingdom glass beads
The range of glass objects remained limited to jewellery, amulets, the occasional small receptacle and flat pieces of glass used as inlays.
Glass inlay (UC 22077)
Glass vase with decorated rim (UC 22081)
During the Late Period glassworking techniques were improved and the range of colours extended. The Ptolemies saw objects made up of different brightly coloured glasses merged together with brilliant, clear surfaces.
Ptolemaic (UC 22258)
The raw materialsPure silica has a melting point of 1700°C. Adding a flux reduces this to less than 1000°C, a temperature achievable with the help of bellows which came into widespread use during the New Kingdom. Ancient glass was a mixture of
The transparency of the end product was affected by the amount of bubbles included in the glass. This could be reduced by vigourous stirring during fritting and the addition of antimony trioxide (Sb2 O3 ), but there is no proof that this was done intentionally during the New Kingdom. Impurities which affected the clarity could be neutralized by additives.
Cylindrical glass ingots were made from raw materials at specialized factories such as the one discovered at Qantir-Piramesse, which was active during the second half of the 13th century BCE. They were shipped to workshops in Egypt and abroad where craftsmen made the final products.
When cold-working glass the material was treated similarly to stone. Blocks of it could be cut and ground to give them desired shape and drilled to create a hollow space. But glass being very brittle and easily shattered, this method was only rarely employed.
The most frequently used technique was core-forming, where a core of clay-containing sand or the like was tied to a stick with bandages and covered with a thin coat of molten glass. By rolling it on an even, hard stone slab the glass surface was smoothed. While it was still hot small amounts of differently coloured glass could be applied to the surface for decorative purposes . As the melting was often incomplete, little air bubbles remained in the glass which turned opaque. By the time of Tutankhamen people had learned how to prevent this bubble formation and transparent glass could be produced.
Interior of glass vessel (UC 22099)
After cooling the object the core was removed. The surface of the interior remained uneven and the impressions left by the core could often be seen.
Casting glass into moulds was only of minor importance during the New Kingdom, but continued to at least a small extent after core-forming had been abandoned due to the introduction of glass blowing under the Romans.In the New Kingdom the Egyptians had all they needed to produce blown glassware: the raw materials in abundance, aerated furnaces reaching high temperatures and ceramic blow tubes. Still, glass blowing was not invented until the first century BCE in Syria. Mass production of blown glass objects was not introduced until Roman times.
Blown glass vessels were created by sticking a piece of molten glass onto one end of a blowpipe and through the other end introducing pressurised air into the pipe. This was done by blowing which could result in the glass-worker damaging his lungs and developing emphysema. The expanding bubble of glass could be
[ ] The photograph of Tutankhamen's pectoral courtesy Jon Bodsworth.
[ ] Source of the photo excerpt of the glass beads: The website of the University College, London .
 The Syrian-Canaanite region was a major centre of glass production and was in the forefront of the development of new technologies. According to some Amarna letters raw glass was imported into Egypt from Tyre, Askalon, Lakhish and Acre. 
 The Italian mineralogist Vincenzo de Michele who examined the scarab with a refractometer in 1998 concluded that it consisted of Libyan desert silica glass .
 Julian Henderson Science and Archaeology of Materials: A Textbook, Routledge, ISBN: 0415199344, pp.25ff.
 Lucas speaks of possibly less than 750°C, Rehren and Pusch of about 900 to 950°C
|About glass making at Akhetaten from Tell el Amarna by W. M. F. Petrie|
|Index of topics|
|Main index and search page|
|Offsite links||(Opening in a new window)|
|These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the content of these sites|
| A Resource for Glass (Pdf file, 1.8 Mb)|
| Glass (University College London)|
| The chemical composition of glass in Ancient Egypt by Mikey Brass|
| Glass: Stages in the making of raw glass|
| Glass: the making of an object|
| Raw glass: imported from the Near East?|
| Libyan Desert Glass|
| Sahara-Prehistory and history of the Sahara, Volume 10|
| Das Tutanchamun-Pektoral|
|Gemrocks: Ornamental & Curio Stones Compiled by R. V. Dietrich, Professor Emeritus|
|Glas (in German)|
|Glass Beads, "Fabulous Fakes" and the Birth of Costume Jewelry|
|Feedback: please report broken links, mistakes - factual or otherwise, etc. to me. thanks.|
© September 2003