Journal of Archaeological Science vol:35 issue:7 pages:1993-2000
In Roman and Byzantine times, natron glass was traded throughout the known world in the form of chunks. Production centers of such raw glass, active from the 4th to 8th century AD, were identified in Egypt and Syro-Palestine. However, early Roman primary glass units remain unknown from excavation or scientific analysis. The ancient author Pliny described in 70 AD that besides Egyptian and Levantine resources, also raw materials from Italy and the Gallic and Spanish provinces were used in glass making. In this study, the primary provenance of 1st-3rd century AD natron vessel glass is investigated. The use of combined Sr and Nd isotopic analysis allows the distinguishing and characterizing of different sand raw materials used for primary glass production. The isotope data obtained from the glass samples are compared to the signatures of primary glass from known production centers in the eastern Mediterranean and a number of sand samples from the regions described by Pliny the Elder as possible sources of primary glass. Eastern Mediterranean primary glass has a Nile dominated Mediterranean Nd signature (higher than -6.0 ε Nd), while glass with a primary production location in the western Mediterranean or north-western Europe should have a different Nd signature (lower than -7.0 ε Nd). Most Roman glass has a homogeneous 87Sr/86Sr signature close to the modern sea water composition, likely caused by the (intentional) use of shell as glass raw material. In this way, strontium and neodymium isotopes now prove that Pliny's writings were correct: primary glass production was not exclusive to the Levant or Egypt in early Roman days, and factories of raw glass in the Western Roman Empire will have been at play.