During an excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the site of a planned road construction as part of the Jezreel Valley Railway Project a remarkable archaeological discovery was made by chance when Abdel Al-Salam Sa’id an archaeologist and inspector with the antiques authority observed chunks of glass, a floor and ash layer inside a trench. He immediately stopped construction work on the new railway line and on further investigation the remnants of the most ancient kilns in Israel were unearthed. These 1600 year old kilns were used to produce commercial quantities of raw glass thus indicating that the land of Israel was one of the leading centres of glass production in the ancient world. Further excavations revealed fragments of floors, the ceiling and walls of the kilns ad well as pieces of vitrified bricks and clean raw glass chips.
Site of the Discovery
Photo by Assaf Peretz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority
The head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Glass Department, Yael Gorin-Rosen indicated the importance of this discovery with implications relating the glass industry in Israel as well as the entire ancient world. Historical sources dating to the Roman period have indicated that the Valley of Akko was renowned for its excellent sand quality that was particularly suitable for the manufacture of glass. Glass vessels from this period have previously been discovered at sites in Europe and in Shipwrecks in the Mediterranean have been chemically analysed and show that the glass is from the excavated region.
The discovery of the kilns has resulted recently in great excitement amongst worldwide glass researchers and some have travelled to Israel to see this discovery for themselves.
A specialist in identifying the chemical composition of glass, Professor Ian Freestone of the University College London has stated that this is a sensational and significant discovery and evidence that Israel was a glass production centre with its glassware being distributed throughout the Mediterranean region and Europe.
The kilns that were revealed consisted of two built compartments: a firebox where kindling was burnt to create a very high temperature, and a melting chamber – in which the raw materials for the glass (clean beach sand and salt) were inserted and melted together at a temperature of c. 1,200 C degrees. The glass was thus heated for a week or two until enormous chunks of raw glass were produced, some of which weighed in excess of ten tons. At the end of the manufacturing process the kilns were cooled; the large glass chunks that were manufactured were broken into smaller pieces and were sold to workshops where they were melted again in order to produce glassware.
Photo Assaf Peretz Photo Shmuel Magal -
courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority
The use of glass greatly increased during the early Roman period mainly due to its attributes of beauty, transparency and the delicacy of the objects which could be speedily produced by blowing which was an inexpensive technique that kept production costs low. From the Roman period onward glass was used in practically every household and used also for windows, mosaics and light fixtures in public buildings. As a result large quantities of raw glass were needed and had to be produced in specialized centres on an industrial scale. The archaeological discovery of the kilns is an example of an ancient production facility.
In the early fourth century CE, two kinds of glass were available, Judean glass from the Land of Israel and Alexandrian glass from Alexandria in Egypt. The Judean glass was not as expensive as Egyptian glass and it was not previously known where the exact centres were that produced the Judean glass. The recent discovery answers the research question by indicating the location where the famous Judean glass was produced.