Short Course Review: Glass in the Mediterranean and the Near East

by Artemios Oikonomou, Associate Editor of Archaeological Glass and Vitreous Materials

This post is about the Glass Course, entitled Glass in the Mediterranean and the Near East, which was held at the Fitch Laboratory, the British School at Athens, in April 2019. The Fitch Laboratory has a tradition of hosting training courses in the field of pottery studies; and last year, it organized, for first time, a 5-day intensive course on ancient glass, taught by the leading experts in the field, namely Prof. Ian Freestone and Dr Yael Gorin-Rosen.

The 5-day course was organized in a very constructive way, divided broadly in two parts. In the first part, Dr Gorin-Rosen focused on the archaeology of glass; and in the second part, Prof. Freestone focused on the technology and archaeometry of glass. In particular, Yael made an introduction on the archaeology of glass diachronically, starting from the late bronze age and focusing on later periods and specifically on Roman and late antique glass. Ian, on the other hand, concentrated on the analysis of 1st millennium BC and 1st millennium AD glass and provided technological information regarding the different glass making traditions. Apart from the study of certain glass typologies, the instructors provided also detailed information about the raw materials used in glassmaking and also the facilities/constructions where the raw materials were fused (kilns, tank furnaces, etc), as well as the manufacturing techniques such as glass blowing and core-forming technique. Moreover, Dr Polytimi Loukopoulou, head conservator of the Greek Ministry of Culture, in a 3-hour lecture, provided details about the deterioration mechanisms and the conservation of glass.

The training sessions of the glass course (Photo credit: Artemios Oikonomou).

In addition to the tutorials, the course included hands on experience on both archaeology and archaeometry of glass. In particular, Yael provided many glass fragments from well-defined typological examples giving the participants the opportunity to handle and study them; Yael also gave preliminary drawing instructions and how to deal with glass during and after the excavation. In addition, Ian provided information regarding the basic principles and approaches in the chemical analysis of glass and explained how the analytical data could be processed in excel worksheets. 

As a side activity, the participants visited the Facilities of the Wiener Laboratory of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and in collaboration with Dr Carlotta Gardner studied glass samples under the Scanning Electron Microscope.

Finally, the course included a visit at the Benaki Museum to see various glass collections. Unfortunately, the visit at a local glass workshop in Athens was cancelled.

Overall, this course formed a very good forum for archaeologists, archaeological scientists, conservators of all levels to understand and get an overall picture of glass as a material and as a technological innovation of the past.

By the time this article is written, this year’s course (2020) is postponed until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak in Europe. Hopefully in the near future it will be organized again. Stay healthy.