A fascinating new archaeological discovery alludes to how northern Israel was history’s original ‘Silicon Valley’. In an excavation conducted by Israel Antiquities Authority, the researchers came across large Roman-era glass production kilns in an area east of Haifa. These kilns date from around 4th century AD (corresponding to the late Roman Empire era), thus making them the oldest glassworks ever found in Israel. In essence, the discovery pretty much proves how ancient Judaea was one of the major glass production areas in the ancient times. And interestingly enough, this site lies in proximity to the Khirbet ‘Asafna, another zone that was known to have antediluvian workshops for manufacturing glass vessels.
Yael Gorin-Rosen, head curator of the Israel Antiquities Authority Glass Department, said –
This is a very important discovery with implications regarding the history of the glass industry both in Israel and in the entire ancient world. 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. Chemical analyses conducted on glass vessels from this period which were discovered until now at sites in Europe and in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean basin have shown that the source of the glass is from our region. Now, for the first time, the kilns have been found where the raw material was manufactured that was used to produce this glassware.
Now historically, the Romans did make use of glass blowing techniques for decorative vessels and objects, especially during the 1st century AD. And fueled by such rapid technical progresses in the glass-making field, the Augustan period also saw the development of window panes. These relatively rudimentary specimens (utilized for preventing cold drafts into the baths) were probably rough cast into a wooden frame on top of a layer of sand or stone. And by 3rd century AD, the glass making was even more refined with the muff process which allowed the manufacturing of individual sheets from blown cylinders.
And since we brought up the scope of glass manufacturing, according to one of Emperor Diocletian’s edicts (dating from 301 AD), the Judaean greenish glass (known as vitri iudaici) was priced at 13 denarii for a pound, while plain glass vessels were priced at 20 denarii per pound. However in spite of such literary mentions, archaeologists had only been successful in finding scarce physical evidence (till now) that directly linked Judaean greenish glass to the actual geographical region of Judaea. But now the discovery of these kilns provide credible insight into how Israel was undoubtedly one of the major centers of glass production in the Roman Empire.
Intriguingly enough, Egypt was the other major center of glass production during the Roman times. In fact, the sodium carbonate that endowed the greenish tinge to the Judaean glass was shipped from across Egypt. Furthermore historically, the oldest glass facility ever found in the world, actually comes from Egypt, in a Nile Delta site dating from 1250 BC. So in a way, such credentials rather elevates the status of Judea as a glass-manufacturing center that possibly competed with the age-old expertise of Egyptian glass makers (though Alexandrian glass was indeed considered higher-end).