Significant Events in the History of Glass

Our brief history of glass takes you from the first use of volcanic glass to chromagenic switchable mirrors and our vision of what the future holds.

Natural Glass - 5,000 B.C. Primitive Glass
Glass has undoubtedly existed in nature since the beginning of time. Some glass in nature is formed by
the melting of certain rocks as a result of volcanic activity such as with hyalopsite (obsidian). Other natural glass is the product of lightning strikes or meteorites. Recently clouds of tiny crystalline silicate particles have been discovered to be orbiting certain stars. Volcanic glass was carved or chipped into tools by humans as early as 5000 B.C.

First Man-Made Glass - 3,500 B.C. A Craft is Born
The earliest man-made glass objects, mainly non-transparent glass beads, are thought to date back
to around 3500 B.C., with finds in Egypt and Eastern Mesopotamia. In the third millennium, in central Mesopotamia, the basic raw materials of glass were being used principally to produce glazes on pots and vases. The discovery may have been coincidental, with calciferous sand finding its way into an overheated
kiln and combining with soda to form a colored glaze on the ceramics. Phoenician merchants and sailors, among others, then spread this new art form along the coasts of the Mediterranean.

2500 B.C. to 1250 B.C. Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt
Archaeological research now places the first evidence of true glass in Mesopotamia at around 2500 B.C.
At first it was used for beads, seals, and architectural decoration. Some 1,000 years elapsed before glass vessels are known to have been produced. Vessels of glass quickly became widespread in the second half
of the second millennium B.C. and was highly developed in ancient Egypt as well as in Mesopotamia. These vessels were made by an ingenious method involving molding on a core. Since glass-blowing was unknown in this early period, a core was made in the shape of the desired vessel from a material strong enough to withstand heating and fireable enough to be removed from the finished article. Viscous glass was applied
to this core. The surface of the vessel was then decorated with threads of colored glass combed into ornamental patterns. The vessel was afterwards rolled on a flat surface and a handle and a base were
added. This method required a high degree of skill. The colors of the glass used in this period indicate that
the makers tried to imitate precious stones such as lapis-lazuli and turquoise. In 2005 archaeologists in Qantir-Piramesses unearthed the remains of a glass factory in ancient Egypt, offering new insights into production techniques for a commodity so highly prized that nobles used it interchangeably with gemstones. Analyzing glass and clay fragments at Qantir-Piramesses in the eastern Nile Delta, researchers described
a two-step process in which factories melted crushed quartz to form semi-finished glass, then re-melted
and colored it to make glass ingots for shipment to artisans elsewhere. They melted the glass again and shaped it into inlays, ornaments and other objects.

62 B.C. Roman Glass
The invention of glass-blowing occurred within an historically critical span of time. In the middle years of
the first century B.C., the power of Rome was fanning out to embrace East and West in a military/political hegemony that would provide the substructure for expansive trade networks and patterns of cultural exchange.


Researched and written by
Kevin Meaney

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