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Archeologists Discover Oldest Glass Factory In Israel

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The land of Israel has long been Silicon Wadi even before the coastal plain's emergence as a tech hub.

Archeologists have unearthed the oldest glass factory in the country, shattering notions about glassmaking in the region and proving that ancient Judaea was once a leading producer of raw materials.

The remnants of the ancient glass factory were discovered by chance last summer just east of the city of Haifa in Northern Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on April 11.

Those 1,600-year-old glass kilns were used during the Roman Empire, indicating that the land was one of the major centers for glass production in the ancient world. This discovery supports historical references which have pointed to a Judean glass industry in the Roman times.

An Ancient Glass Workshop

The 4th century glass kilns were found adjacent to Khirbet Asafna, a modern site excavated by the Corning Glass Museum and Missouri State University about 50 years ago.

The location of the glass kilns contained an ancient workshop that produced glass vessels, archeologists said.

IAA inspector Abd al-Salam Sa'id had visited the site to check the building of a rail line linking Beit She'an and to Haifa, but he had noticed portions of glass and a layer of ash inside a trench.

He and his colleagues had then exposed fragments of floors, shards of clean and raw glass chips, and pieces of vitrified bricks from the ceiling and walls of the kilns.

"We were absolutely overwhelmed with excitement when we understood the great significance of the finds," said al-Salam Sa'id.

Further digging revealed that the site had two compartments: the first was a firebox where combustible sticks and twigs were put into flames to create extremely high temperatures.

The second was a melting chamber where the raw materials for glass – salt and clean beach sand – inserted and then melted together at about 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit (1,204 degrees Celsius).

The glass was heated for seven to 14 days until big chunks of raw glass formed, some weighing more than 10 tons.

At the end, the kilns were cooled. The enormous glass chunks were broken into smaller fragments and sold to workshops where they were again melted to produce glassware.

Glass Was Important During The Roman Empire

Thanks to an edict circulated by ancient Roman emperor Diocletian, scientists know that the 4th century CE favored two kinds of glass: the light green Judean glass and the more pricey Alexandrian glass.

Glass was a staple of every household during the Roman Empire, and it continues even today. It has been used in building windows, lighting fixtures and mosaics.

Ancient glass technologies expert Ian Freestone of University College London said the discovery is sensational and greatly significant because it offers insight into understanding the ancient trade system of glass trade.

Freestone added that it provides evidence that the country constituted a glass production center on an international level.

"Hence its glassware was widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean and Europe," added Freestone.

Prior to the discovery, the oldest glass producing site in Israel was at Apollonia, which had run during the 6th to 7th century CE. Meanwhile, the oldest glass manufacturing location in the world was unearthed in 2005, revealing that ancient Egypt produced glass as early as 1250 BCE.

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