A team led by a Cardiff University archaeologist has reconstructed a 3,000-year-old glass furnace, showing that Ancient Egyptian glassmaking methods were much more advanced than previously thought.
Dr Paul Nicholson, of the University’s School of History and Archaeology, is leader of an Egypt Exploration Society team working on the earliest fully excavated glassmaking site in the world. The site, at Amarna, on the banks of the Nile, dates back to the reign of Akhanaten (1352 - 1336 B.C.), just a few years before the rule of Tutankhamun.
It was previously thought that the Ancient Egyptians may have imported their glass from the Near East at around this time. However, the excavation team believes the evidence from Amarna shows they were making it themselves, possibly in a single stage operation. Dr Nicholson and his colleague Dr Caroline Jackson of Sheffield University demonstrated this was possible, using local sand to produce a glass ingot from their own experimental reconstruction of a furnace near the site.
The team have also discovered that the glassworks was part of an industrial complex which involved a number of other high temperature manufacturing processes. The site also contained a potter’s workshop and facilities for making blue pigment and faience - a material used in amulets and architectural inlays. The site was near one of the main temples at Amarna and may have been used to produce materials in state buildings.
Dr Nicholson, who has been working at Amarna since 1983, said: “It has been argued that the Egyptians imported their glass and worked it into the artefacts that have been discovered from this time. I believe there is now enough evidence to show that skilled craftsmen could make their own glass and were probably involved in a range of other manufacturing industries as well.”
Dr Nicholson has now written a book detailing the discoveries made at Amarna. Entitled Brilliant Things for Akhenaten, it is published by the Egypt Exploration Society (London) and available through Oxbow Books in the UK and The David Brown Book Company in the USA.