During the construction of a railway line connecting Afula and Beit She’an to Haifa, archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the world’s oldest glassworks according to a statement made yesterday by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
World’s oldest known glass factory unearthed in Israel
According to those involved in the excavation last year just east of Haifa, the glass factory dates back to the fourth century A.D. During the dig, the team discovered collapsed kilns and raw glass pieces turquoise in color and proof that Israelis were making glass for Rome during the Late Roman period.
“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 (IAA) glass department.
Apparently, Silicon Valley with all its accomplishments, at least for a day, will take a backseat to this Silicon Wadi in Northern Israel.
It was though for quite some time that Judea was responsible for Roman glass production, but the find wraps up this understanding nicely and provides the “ultimate evidence” to verify this belief.
Somewhat ironically, this new find wasn’t but a stone’s throw or two from the contemporary site Khirbet ‘Asafna, which was excavated in the 1960s by the Corning Glass Museum and Missouri University. While that site was, indeed, old and produced glass the new find predates it by quite a bit.
Prior to this find last year during the construction of the new rail line, the oldest known glass works in Israel dated from the 6th or 7th Century AD and was uncovered at Apollonia.
Roman Emperor Diocletian spoke of this Israeli glass
Monuments across the Roman empire commissioned by Emperor Diocletian in 301 AD, bore edict about the price limits of this green-colored Judea glass called vitri iudaici. The price was apparently set at 13 denarii for the raw material and simple glassware was set at a price of 20 denarri each pound. The Romans got nearly all their glass from Israel and Egypt with the glass from Alexandria, Egypt being of superior quality if for no other reason than the higher prices the Romans paid for it.
While chemical testing of Roman glass did suggest that it was likely produced in Judea, until this find the evidence was thin if not downright anemic.
“Now, for the first time, the kilns have been found where the raw material was manufactured that was used to produce this glassware,” said Yael Gorin-Rosen, head of the IAA’s glass department.
“This is a very important discovery with implications regarding the history of the glass industry both in Israel and in the entire ancient world,” she continued.
Professor Ian Freestone of University College London (UCL) told the Times of Israel that roughly 90% of Roman glassware came from Israel and Egypt owing to the low iron content of the sand in those two countries. “The quality of the sand on the coast makes it particularly suitable for glass manufacturing,” the ancient materials specialist and professor said.
Freestone also suggests that while the glass could have been used for glassware of stemware, it was likely that most of this raw glass was mixed with sodium carbonate to produce windows.
While this is the earliest find in Israel, archeologists discovered a site along the Nile in 2005, that appears to be a glassworks dating to 1250 BC.