June 12, 2011
Glass In The Raw - The Ancient Origins of Glass
Man-made glass has an exceptionally long timeline. Researching this subject has fueled my affection for glassware much more than I would have imagined. In all honestly, I kind of drug my feet about getting the official research underway for fear that once I started I would find it so humdrum that I would soon lose interest and not be able to complete the task. I needed to get the lowdown on glass so that I could understand and therefore explain its place in history.
Of course, natural glass, such as obsidian (pictured to left) which is formed as a result of a volcanic eruption, has been in use since the Stone Ages. Stone-Age man used this glass for the production of knives, arrowheads (pictured to right), jewelry, and money. Glass was first made in the ancient world, but very little is known about the methods initially used. Amulets and solid glass beads are thought to have been made in Egypt and Eastern Mesopotamia as early as 3500BC.
The oldest fragments of glass vases were found in Mesopotamia and date back to about 1500BC. These fragments are evidence of the origin of hollow glass production. Hollow glass fabrication was also beginning to blossom in Egypt, China and a few other regions, during this period. Glass production increased quickly over the next 300 years and then began to decline. It was revived again in Mesopotamia approximately 700BC and in Egypt sometime during the 500's BC.
Over the next 500 years Egypt, Syria, and other countries along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea became the center of glass production, primarily in Alexandria. It was from there that it is thought to have spread to Italy. The first glassmaking 'instruction manual' dates back to approximately 650BC. Instructions on how to make glass are contained in tablets from the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (669-626 BC). Truly amazing when you really sit there and think about how long ago that was and what has taken place during the course of history since that time.
At the beginning of the surge of glass production the process was a slow and difficult one. The glass melting furnaces were small and the heat produced was barely enough to melt the glass. It wasn't until sometime between 27BC to 14AD that Syrian craftsman from the Sidon-Babylon area, invented the blow pipe. This was a major breakthrough for the glass making industry. The long thin metal tube used in the blowing process has changed very little since then. In the last century BC, the ancient Romans then began blowing glass inside molds, majorly increasing the variety of shapes possible for hollow glass items.
From 25 to 400AD there was rapid development and growth of glass melting, working and forming technology in the Mediterranean region during the Roman Era. Production flourished and quickly spread from Italy to all countries under Roman rule. In 100AD glass cost rapidly declined and for the first time became available to ordinary citizens, something that would happen again during the 19th Century with the advancements in technology.