Listen to part of a lecture in an ancient history class.
[reviewing] OK, last time we were discussing trade and commerce during the Bronze Age ...
And I said a little over 3,000 years ago there was quite a lively trade among the countries along the Mediterranean Sea—people were making objects out of bronze, and they were using bronze tools to make other goods, and they developed trade networks to trade these goods with other countries around the Mediterranean ...
[new information] One of the things they traded was glass ...
And recently there was an archeological excavation in Egypt—on the Nile River, around where it enters the Mediterranean Sea—where they discovered an ancient glass factory. [sees hand raised]
I thought our textbook said that the Egyptians imported their glass from other countries.
Well, until now that's what the evidence seemed to suggest.
I mean, we had some evidence that suggested that the Egyptians were making glass objects, uh, but not glass.
[friendly] OK, am-am I missing something?
They're making glass, but they're not making glass.
[correcting] I said they were making glass objects, right?
You see, it was previously thought that they weren't actually making the raw glass itself, [but] that they were importing unfinished glass from Mesopotamia—um, which today is a region consisting of Iraq, and parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iran—and simply reworking it.
Most archeologists believed that the glass factories were in Mesopotamia because that's where the oldest known glass remains come from.
You see, there were two stages of glassmaking: the primary production stage, where they made disks of raw glass...
Uh, an- and then there was the secondary stage, where they melted the raw glass, the glass disks, and created decorative objects or whatever.
And from this new Egyptian site we've learned that the primary production stage had several steps.
First, they took quartz—a colorless, transparent mineral—and crushed it.
Then they took that crushed quartz and mixed it with plant ash; uh, "plant ash" is just what it sounds like—the ash that's left after you've burned plant material.
They slowly heated this mixture, at a relatively low temperature, in small vessels, um containers, like jars, made out of clay.
Uh, and that yielded a kind of glassy material...
They took this glassy material and ground it up into a powder, and then they used metallic dye to color it...
After that, they poured the colored powder out into disk-shaped molds and heated it up to very high temperatures, so that it melted.
After it cooled, they'd break the molds, and inside...there were the glass disks.
These disks were shipped off to other sites within Egypt and places around the Mediterranean.
Then, in the secondary phase, the disks were reheated and shaped into decorative objects.
[sees hand raised] Susan?
So what kind of objects were people making back then?
Well, the most common objects we've found—mostly in Egypt and Mesopotamia—uh, the most common objects were beads; one thing Egyptians were very, very good at was imitating precious stones; they created some beads that looked so much like emeralds and pearls that it was very difficult to distinguish them from the real thing.
Uh, and-and also beautiful vessels, uh, with narrow necks; they were probably really valuable, so they wouldn't have been used to hold cooking oil or common food items; they were most likely used for expensive liquids like perfume.
Now the glass made at this factory was mostly red; to get this red color, they used copper; in a sophisticated process.
Of course, any kind of glass was very valuable, so these red bottles would only have been owned by wealthy people.
In fact, because it was so difficult to make, and sort of mysterious and complicated, it was probably a product produced for the royal family, and they probably used glass to show their power.
Also, beautiful, expensive objects make great gifts if you're looking to establish or strengthen political alliances... and it's quite possible that ancient Egyptians were actually exporting glass, not just making it or importing it.
The trade with Mesopotamia was probably a friendly, mutual trade...because, uh, Mesopotamian glass was usually white or yellow, so Mesopotamians might have said something like, "We'll give you two white disks for two red disks." There's no proof of that, uh—at least not yet...