Analysing ancient glass

Fragment of an ornately moulded colourless glass vessel found at Gordion (Photo: Janet Duncan Jones)

In a collaborative project with Dr Wendy Reade of the University of Sydney and Dr Janet Duncan Jones of Bucknell University (Pennsylvania, USA), Dr Karen Privat of the AMMRF at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has been analysing some of the earliest moulded colourless glass in the world. The researchers are concentrating their efforts on some unique glass pieces from the site of Gordion, ancient capital of the Anatolian Kingdom of Phrygia (early first millennium BCE, in modern day Turkey) and seat of the legendary King Midas. The origins of the glass, its precise method of manufacture and in some cases the date of manufacture are all unknown.

By using the flagship SEM microanalysis facility the team are able to quantitatively analyse the chemical composition of millimetre-sized pieces sampled from these valuable glass fragments. The chemical data suggest that the glass was originally made in Mesopotamia, then transported in raw form to Phrygia, where it was moulded and cut by local master craftsmen. Statistical software enables the researchers to group chemically similar glasses, allowing otherwise undatable material to be assigned a likely date according to its chemical typology. This work is ongoing and will expand to include the analysis of later Hellenistic-era glasses from around the region.

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