Skip to main content Accessibility help

The roots of provenance: glass, plants and isotopes in the Islamic Middle East

  • J. Henderson (a1), J. Evans (a2) and Y. Barkoudah (a3)

Glass – one of the most prestigious materials of the early Islamic empire – was traded not only as vessels and bangles but as raw glass blocks. One of its raw materials, plant-ash, was also traded. This means that tracking the production of this precious commodity is especially challenging. The authors show that while chemical composition can relate to vessel type, it is a combination of chemical compositions with strontium and neodymium isotope ratios that is most likely to lead to (a geological) provenance for its manufacture. The materials used by the glassmakers were local sand and plant ashes. Reported here is the first application of the method to the glass made at the primary glass making centre of al-Raqqa, Syria in an environmental context.

Hide All
Aldsworth, F., Haggerty, G., Jennings, S. & Whitehouse, D.. 2002. Medieval glassmaking at Tyre, Lebanon. Journal of Glass Studies 44: 4966.
Andreescu-Treadgold, I. & Henderson, J.. 2006. Glass from theMosaics on theWest wall of Torcello's Basilica. Arte Medievale V(2): 87140.
Asch, K. 2005. IGME 5000: The 1: 5 000 000 international geological map of Europe and adjacent areas - final version for the internet. Hannover: BRG.
Ashtor, E. 1992. Levantine alkali ashes and European industries, in Kedar, B.Z. (ed.) Technology, industry and trade: the Levant versus Europe, 1250-1500: 475522. Hampshire (VT): Variorum.
Barkoudah, Y. & Henderson, J.. 2006. Plant ashes from Syria and the manufacture of ancient glass: ethnographic and scientific aspects. Journal of Glass Studies 48: 297321.
Bass, G.F. 1984. The nature of the Serç Limani glass. Journal of Glass Studies 26: 64–9.
Beydoun, Z.R. 1977. The Levantine countries: the geology of Syria and Lebanon (maritime regions), in Nairn, A.E.M., Kanes, W.H. & Stehli, F.G. (ed.) The ocean basins and margins. Volume 4A: The eastern Mediterranean: 319–31. New York: Plenum.
Birck, J.L. 1986. Precision K-Rb-Sr isotopic analysis - application to Rb-Sr chronology. Chemical Geology 56(1-2): 7383.
Brill, R.H. 1999. Chemical analyses of early glasses (2 Volumes). Corning (NY): The Corning Museum of Glass.
Brill, R.H. & Fullagar, P.D.. 2006. Isotope studies of historical glasses and related materials. Paper presented at the International Association for the History of Glass conference, 4-8 September 2006, Antwerp, Belgium.
Carboni, S. 1998. Gregorio's tale; or, of enamelled glass production in Venice, in Ward, R. (ed.) Gilded and enamelled glass from the Middle East: 101–1. London: British Museum Press.
Carboni, S. 2001. Glass from Islamic lands: the Al-Sabah collection, Kuwait National Museum. London: Thames & Hudson.
Carboni, S., Lacerenza, G. & Whitehouse, D.. 2003. Glassmaking in medieval Tyre: the written evidence. Journal of Glass Studies 45: 139–13.
Clayton, R.N. & Mayeda, T.K.. 1963. The use of bromine pentafluoride in the extraction of oxygen from the oxides and silicates for isotopic analysis. Geochemica et Cosmochemica Acta 27: 4352.
Dickin, A.P. 1995. Radiogenic isotope geology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Degryse, P., Schneider, J., Haack, U., Lauwers, V., Poblome, J., Waelkens, M., Muchez, P.H.. 2006. Evidence for glass ‘recycling' using Pb and Sr isotopic ratios and Sr-mixing lines: the case for early Byzantine Sagalassos. Journal of Archaeological Science 33: 494501.
Fenn, P.M., Brill, R.H. & Meiguang, Shi. 1991. Appendix to chapter 4, in Brill, R.H. & Martin, J.H. (ed.) Scientific research in early Chinese glass: 5964. Corning (NY): The Corning Museum of Glass.
Foy, D. 2000. Un atelier de verrier à Beyrouth au debit de la conquěte Islamique. Syria 77: 239–23.
Freestone, I.C., Leslie, K.A., Thirlwell, M. & Gorin, Y.-ROSEN. 2003. Strontium isotopes in the investigation of early glass production: Byzantine and Early Islamic glass from the Near East. Archaeometry 45(1): 1932.
Heidemann, S. 2006. The history of the industrial and commercial area of ‘Abbasid Al-Raqqa, called Al-Raqqa Al-Mutariqa. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 69: 1, 3352.
Henderson, J. 2002. Tradition and experiment in 1st millennium AD glass production: the emergence of Early Islamic glass technology in late antiquity. Accounts of Chemical Research 35: 594602.
Henderson, J. 2003. Glass trade and chemical analysis: a possible model for Islamic glass production, in Foy, D. & M.-D. Nenna (ed.) Echanges et commerce du verre dans le monde antique (Monographies instrumentum 24): 109–10. Montagnac: Editions Monique Mergoil.
Henderson, J., Mcloughlin, S. & Mcphail, D.. 2004. Radical changes in Islamic glass technology: evidence for conservatism and experimentation with new glass recipes from early and middle Islamic Al-Raqqa, Syria. Archaeometry 46: 439–43.
Henderson, J., Challis, S., O'hara, S., Mcloughlin, A., Gardner, A. & Priestnall, G.. 2005a. Experiment and innovation: Early Islamic industry at al-Raqqa, Syria. Antiquity 79: 130–13.
Henderson, J., Evans, J.A., Sloane, H.J., Leng, M.J. & Doherty, C.. 2005b. The use of oxygen, strontium and lead isotopes to provenance ancient glasses in the Middle East. Journal of Archaeological Science 32(5): 665–66.
Heusch, J.-C. & Meinecke, M.. 1989. Dei Residenz des Harun al-Rashid in Raqqa. Damascus: Deutsches Archaologisches Institut.
Lamm, J.C. 1929-30. Mittelalterliche Gläser und Steinschnittarbeiten aus dem Nahen Osten (2 Volumes) (Forschungen zur islamischen Kunst 5). Berlin: D. Reimer.
Leslie, K.A., Freestone, I.C., Lowry, D. & Thirlwall, M.. 2006. The provenance and technology of Near Eastern glass: oxygen isotopes by laser fluorination as a complement to strontium. Archaeometry 48: 253270.
Mcarthur, J.M., Howarth, R.J. & Bailey, T.R.. 2001. Strontium isotope stratigraphy: LOWESS version 3: Best fit to the marine Sr-isotope curve for 0-509 Ma and accompanying look-up table for deriving numerical age. Journal of Geology 109(2): 155170.
Montgomery, J., Evans, J.A. & Wildman, G.. 2006. Sr-87/Sr-86 isotope composition of bottled British mineral waters for environmental and forensic purposes. Applied Geochemistry 21(10): 1626–16.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed