Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ancient glass beads provide evidence of industry and trade routes at the time of the Romans

Date:
August 9, 2013
Source:
Universität Mainz
Summary:
Scientists have demonstrated techniques used to produce ancient glazed beads. The raw materials for ancient glass beads found in former Rhaetian settlements in Bavaria clearly did not originate from this region, researchers say.

One of the glass beads investigated (actual size) ()
Credit: © Institute of Nuclear Chemistry, JGU

Scientists at Mainz University for the first time prove techniques used to produce ancient glazed beads / Investigations conducted using neutron activation analysis with the aid of the TRIGA research reactor of Mainz University

The raw materials for ancient glass beads found in former Rhaetian settlements in Bavaria clearly did not originate from this region. This is the conclusion following an analysis of the beads at the TRIGA research reactor of the Institute of Nuclear Chemistry at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). A total of 42 glass beads from four different sites were examine, 38 of them dating to the early Roman imperial period (30-60 A.D.) and four from the late Roman period (4th century A.D.). "We were able to clearly demonstrate that all of the glass beads from the four sites are made of soda-lime glass," stated Barbara Karches of the JGU Institute of Nuclear Chemistry. The use of sodium to manufacture the glass indicates that the raw glass must have been produced in the vicinity of soda lakes rather than in the inner land. The investigations have also provided important information for historians on industry and technology, trade routes, and the lifestyle of people at that time.

The majority of the glass beads studied came from excavations undertaken in the vicinity of Oberammergau. The location at which they were found were within what represented a cult site for the Rhaetians who once settled there. The glass beads, which were used as jewelry by the locals, show traces of exposure to sacrificial fires. Other objects found there appear to have been positioned deliberately in definite patterns. "The analysis of these beads was particularly interesting for us because the items found at the cult site have provided the first clear evidence that this region was already settled in the 1st century B.C.," explained Christian Stieghorst, co-supervisor of the study.

With the help of a technique called neutron activation analysis (NAA), it proved possible to identify the various elements present in the beads from Oberammergau and the other sites at Heimstätten, Auerberg, and Neubiberg. The technique involved exposing the specimens to radiation in the TRIGA research reactor. When bombarded by neutrons, the atomic nuclei of the material under investigation initially become unstable. As they return to their normal state, the nuclei emit characteristic gamma radiation that has a unique profile for each element and can thus be used for identification. "TRIGA as a radiation facility offers the ideal conditions for obtaining a chemical fingerprint of specimens by completely non-destructive means," stated Dr. Gabriele Hampel, operations manager of the research reactor.

The investigations showed that all the beads are made of soda-lime glass with a sodium oxide content of up to 20 percent. This means that the raw material sodium or possibly even the finished raw glass must have originally come from somewhere near a soda lake like those in Wadi El Natrun in Egypt. In antiquity, it would not have been possible to artificially achieve a temperature of 1,800 degrees Celsius, which is the temperature required to melt pure sand to make glass. It was thus necessary to add a fluxing agent to lower the melting point, usually in the form of potash or natural soda. Potash was freely available everywhere and was used depending on the location of the glass manufactory. Potash made from seaweed or plants growing along a coastline contains more sodium because of the saline soil, whereas inland plants contain more potassium. As it is a very complex process to extract the sodium from potash, naturally occurring soda from Egypt was more frequently used.

Some of the beads stand out because of their striking colors. They were colored blue to opaque black using cobalt, copper gave them a green color, while manganese helped produce a violet color or to decolorize glass given a yellow tint by the presence of iron. Ancient manufacturers achieved a brown color for the beads with the help of iron oxide.

"We were surprised by the unusually high silver content in the Oberammergau glass beads, particularly the unexpected distribution," stated Karches. These were glazed beads which were manufactured using a two-stage treatment process. The glass inner core was first coated with a thin layer of silver and then with another layer of glass. It was a new insight and one of the more relevant results of the TRIGA investigations conducted at Mainz that silver had been used to produce the glazed beads.

The project designed to investigate the elemental composition of early imperial period glass beads using NAA was supervised by Professor Tobias Reich of the JGU Institute of Nuclear Chemistry and Dr. Werner Zanier of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Universität Mainz. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Karches, B. Untersuchung spätlatène- / frühkaiserzeitlicher Glasperlen auf ihre Elementzusammensetzung mittels instrumenteller Neutronenaktivierungsanalyse (). Examination paper in Chemistry, 2012

Cite This Page:

Universität Mainz. "Ancient glass beads provide evidence of industry and trade routes at the time of the Romans." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130809114831.htm>.
Universität Mainz. (2013, August 9). Ancient glass beads provide evidence of industry and trade routes at the time of the Romans. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130809114831.htm
Universität Mainz. "Ancient glass beads provide evidence of industry and trade routes at the time of the Romans." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130809114831.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2014) — A 9-year-old Michigan boy was exploring a creek when he came across a 10,000-year-old tooth from a prehistoric mastodon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) — A couple found love letters from World War I in their attic. They were able to deliver them to relatives of the writer of those letters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

AFP (Apr. 16, 2014) — Explicit Chinese art works dating back centuries go on display in Hong Kong, revealing China's ancient relationship with sex. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) — Parisians and local historians are fighting to save one of the French capital's iconic buildings, the La Samaritaine department store. Duration: 01:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins