Several centuries of glass in one summer

Carrie Swan excavating glass

By: Carrie Swan, The Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University, 2012 Platt Fellow

As a glass artifact specialist, my research is not limited to a particular time period or geographic region, so I am able to study material from a range of times and places. It’s incredibly interesting and rewarding to view material culture over a long chronological sequence, and to study the particular ways in which glass was produced and used within various regions and by different cultures. This summer I’ve been fortunate enough to work with two different projects, studying the glass assemblages unearthed during the excavation of Horbat Huqoq in Israel and Hisn al-Tinat in Turkey.

Huqoq is a Jewish village located in the Galilee region of Israel, just west of Lake Kinneret and within the area of ancient Migdal, Capernaum, and other villages made famous by the life of Jesus. The site dates primarily to the Roman-Early Byzantine period, but our excavation project actually has three main goals: 1) to study the ancient village, 2) to study the synagogue of the ancient village, and 3) to study the “modern” Arab-Palestinian village of Yakuk that was built on top of the ancient village but abandoned in 1948 and bulldozed in the 1960s. In many excavations, the more modern remains are largely ignored or removed without much attention; although I too initially thought the Roman-Byzantine glass would be the most important and interesting material to study, I have actually found that the modern 19th-20th century glass can be just as informative (and quite fun) to research as the more ancient fragments. I’ve learned how to identify machine blown bottles made in the early 20th century, and I have been excited to identify several jar fragments recovered from the modern village dump that are an exact match to a complete vessel recovered from a fallen shelf within one of the houses.

Another part of my role at Huqoq has been to help the field school students recognize and appreciate the glass fragments they are uncovering on a daily basis. To that end, I gave a lecture on archaeological glass and discussed some of the objects the students had recently uncovered; it was quite rewarding to see the students take what I had taught them and apply it immediately to their work. One day some students came home from a morning of digging to tell me they had found the base of a stem footed-goblet of naturally-aqua colored glass in their trench — that they could now identify the fragment part, the vessel type, and the original color of the weathered glass sure put a smile on my face! I went out later that day and carefully excavated the goblet foot, and then brought it around the trench to talk more with the students about it; the goblet fragment was one of the nicest examples we’ve recovered so far, with the closest parallels coming from 5th-6th century CE Beirut.

Close up of a fragment from a ca. 5th-6th century CE stem-footed goblet.

After a month at Huqoq, I traveled to southern Turkey to join the team of the Kinet Hoyuk project for their final study season. My job for the next two weeks is to study the glass from the Early Islamic-Middle Byzantine (8th-12th centuries CE) settlement of Hisn al-Tinat, which is about 1km from the Bronze Age mound itself but is part of the overall occupation history of the site. Hisn al-Tinat was a small coastal port, fortified and located right on the Byzantine-Islamic frontier. The glass finds from the site are quite different from those of Huqoq, but they are by no means less interesting. Perhaps the most conspicuous are the fragments of glass bangle bracelets, which were especially popular in the 10th-12th centuries CE: purple, colorless, and blue glass — some are simply and quickly formed while others are more artistic and were painstakingly decorated. I’ve only just begun to look at the material, but I’m sure I will find some absolute gems!

This has been an absolutely wonderful field season so far, as it has allowed me to work with glass assemblages from a very long chronological sequence (over 700 years, dating to the Roman, Early Byzantine, Early Islamic, and Middle Byzantine periods) as well as over a wider geographic range (from the coast of southern Turkey to the Galilee of Israel). Glass and glassmaking can tell us a great deal about production and consumption activities in the past and can also shed light on the various social, cultural, and economic aspects of life in the Late Antique Eastern Mediterranean region. My very sincere THANKS to ASOR for awarding me with the Platt Fellowship this year, which made it possible for me to participate in two outstanding archaeological projects in two fascinating countries, and to study as much glass as is physically possible!

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