History

Ancient Roman Glass Kilns Unearthed in Israel

The roughly 1,600-year-old kilns created raw glass for the Roman Empire that weighed as much as 10 tons. Continue reading →

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed the remains of the oldest kilns in the country, finding the location where commercial quantities of raw pale green "Judean glass" were produced.

The roughly 1,600-year-old kilns served the entire Roman Empire, according to a statement by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). They indicate that "the Land of Israel was one of the foremost centers for glass production in the ancient world," the IAA said.

"We know from historical sources dating to the Roman period that the Valley of Akko was renowned for the excellent quality sand located there, which was highly suitable for the manufacture of glass," said Yael Gorin-Rosen, head curator of the Israel Antiquities Authority Glass Department.

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She noted that chemical analyses conducted on glass vessels from this period which were discovered at sites in Europe and in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean basin pointed to Israel as the source of the glass.

"Now, for the first time, the kilns have been found where the raw material was manufactured that was used to produce this glassware," she said.

Dating to the Late Roman period, the kilns were discovered by chance last summer at a site near Haiifa before the construction work that was part of the Jezreel Valley Railway Project.

"We exposed fragments of floors, pieces of vitrified bricks from the walls and ceiling of the kilns, and clean raw glass chips. We were absolutely overwhelmed with excitement when we understood the great significance of the finds," said archaeologist Abdel Al-Salam Sa'id, an inspector with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Further excavation revealed the production site consisted of two compartments. There was a firebox where kindling was burned to create a very high temperature, and a melting chamber in which clean beach sand and salt, the raw materials for the glass, were inserted and melted together at a temperature of about 2,200 Fahrenheit degrees.

The glass was heated for a week or two until enormous chunks of raw glass were produced, some of which weighed over 10 tons.

At the end of the manufacturing process the kilns were cooled and the large glass chunks that were manufactured were broken into smaller pieces and sold to workshops where they were melted again in order to produce glassware.

We know from a price edict circulated by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the early fourth century A.D., that there were basically two kinds of glass: the light green Judean glass, from Israel, and the more expensive Alexandrian glass from Egypt.

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Glass was used in almost every household from the Roman period onward, also employed in the construction of public buildings in the form of windows, mosaics and lighting fixtures.

Large quantities of raw glass were therefore prepared on an industrial scale in specialized centers such as the one unearthed near Haifa.

"This is a sensational discovery and it is of great significance for understanding the entire system of the glass trade in antiquity," said Ian Freestone, an expert on the ancient technologies of glass at University College Lyndon.

"This is evidence that Israel constituted a production center on an international scale; hence its glassware was widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean and Europe," he added.

Image: Small fragments of the raw glass as they were found at the site. Credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

Sept. 12, 2011 --

 In the search for buried history, archaeologists pour their resources into uncovering the remnants of the distant past. With know-how, persistence and a little luck, archaeologists can push aside dirt and rock and find an artifact of historical significance. Although chance plays a big role in unearthing history, archaeological treasures have been stumbled upon purely by accident, often by those outside the scientific community. In these photos, explore several particularly serendipitous finds of unique artifacts, some of which reach as far back as prehistory.

On Sept. 12, 1940, four teenagers followed their wayward dog into a cave complex near the village of Montignac in southwestern France. To their surprise, the caves hosted something remarkable: nearly 2,000 paintings and etchings of animals, humans and abstract shapes on the walls dating back between 15,000 and 25,000 years.  Known as the Lascaux caves, the complex features figures depicted in surprising detail given the age of the illustrations. Animals portrayed on the cave walls included horses, stags, bison and felines.  Archaeologists believed the caves were used for ritualistic purposes. Some parts of the illustrations even appear to construct a narrative, but what they mean exactly has yet to be deciphered. The caves were open to the public in 1948, but closed in 1963 in order to preserve the site from damage.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of over 800 biblical texts made of animal skin and papyrus. Dating to around 2,000 years ago, between the years 200 B.C. and 70 A.D., the scrolls could well be the oldest such documents in existence and have deepened historians' understanding of religious history. These documents may have been lost to history had a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammed edh-Dhib and his cousin not stumbled upon the first manuscripts along the northern shore of the Dead Sea at a remote site known as Qumran in 1947. The last fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection was uncovered in the mid-1950s. Although the scrolls have been extensively studied and translated, one big mystery remains: Who exactly wrote them?

As Napoleon Bonaparte's army marched through north Africa during his campaign in Egypt, they stumbled upon what would become known as the Rosetta Stone, after the town where it was discovered. Within Bonaparte's army was a squadron of scholars called Institute of Egypt, also known as the Scientific and Artistic Commission. As the military settled around the Nile Delta, the Institute explored local ruins and artifacts. After the discovery of the stone in 1799, several copies of the inscriptions on its face were made, since no one could read them at the time. By 1802, the Greek and Demotic portions of the stone had been deciphered by scholars. The hieroglyphics posed a different challenge all together, however, and it would take 20 years before French scholar Jean-François Champollion announced that he had cracked the code. By deciphering the hieroglyphs, Champollion opened a whole new door to understanding the civilization of ancient Egypt. The Rosetta Stone is currently kept in the British Museum. 

In case you don't know what a geoglyph is, ancient Peruvians went through the trouble of leaving a picture-perfect definition. Known as the Nazca Lines, these giant carvings into the Earth were only discovered by airplane in the 1930s. Located in the Nazva desert in southern Peru around 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Lima, the geoglyphs resemble a number of animals including a spider (as seen here), a condor, a monkey, a tree, as well as human figures and geometric patterns. Why exactly indigenous tribes living in the area between 100 B.C. and 650 A.D. felt compelled to produce these works remains a mystery, though archaeologists agree that it is likely tied to religious customs. 

In 1991, German tourists stumbled upon a frozen body in a glacier on the Ötztal Alps between Italy and Austria. Although they originally thought the corpse to be the result of a recent death, the iceman mummy, named Ötzi, in fact dated back 5,300 years. Since Ötzi's discovery, the mummy has been extensively studied. Scientists have learned everything from his last meal to his cause of death to his possible occupation and they have even made reconstructions of his face. Ötzi died in the spring as a result of an arrowhead striking his left clavicle artery. He likely received a ceremonial burial and was found beside tools and other personal items.

Over the years, metal detector enthusiasts, particularly those in the United Kingdom, have uncovered archaeological treasures buried beneath the Earth. In 2009, 30-year-old Nick Davies hauled in 10,000 ancient Roman coins that he had found inside a clay pot buried in Shropshire, U.K. That same year, a trove of 1,500 gold and silver pieces dating back to the Dark Ages were found on a farmer's field in the western region of Staffordshire, England. Last year, 63-year-old David Crisp uncovered 52,000 ancient Roman coins, later given a value of around $1 million, in a clay pot in southwestern England.

In 1986, divers stumbled upon a nearly 2,000-year-old Roman shipwreck some six miles off the coast of the town of Grado, Italy. Measuring 55 feet long and 16 feet wide, the small trade vessel was stocked with 600 amphorae, or vases, packed with sardines and other fish. Further study of the shipwreck revealed that the ancient Roman engineers also had built in a hydraulic system that allowed the ship to carry an aquarium with live fish.