Many Stone-Age Societies Used Naturally-Ocurring Glass
Before glassmaking was invented, many Stone Age societies across the planet used naturally occurring glass, especially the volcanic glass obsidian. They used this to produce sharp cutting tools, and this type of glass was extensively traded.
True Glass Production Started Around 3500 BC in the Middle East, Perhaps as an Accident
Archaeologists believe that preliminary efforts at making glass were first made in the region of Mesopotamia around 3500 BC. Because Egypt had such a favorable environment for preservation, most of the ancient glass that has endured up to today was originally found there. Some of this, however, was likely imported.
An Accidental By-Product of Metal-Working
Beads were the earliest known objects made from glass, and some believe they were perhaps first created as accidental byproducts of metal-working, or even made during the production of faience, which was a pre-glass material that was made through a process that's similar to glazing.
A Luxury Material that Disappeared with the Civilizations that Made it
During the Late Bronze Age in Egypt and the surrounding areas, there was rapid growth in glassmaking technology. Archaeological findings from this particular period include vessels, colored glass ingots, and of course beads. The alkali used for both Syrian and Egyptian glass was soda ash and sodium carbonate.
The earliest of the vessels were made with a technique called core-formed, which produced a winding rope of glass that was wound round a shaped core of sand and clay over a metal rod, then fused with repeated reheatings.
Glass was at first considered a luxury material, and after the disasters that struck Bronze Age civilizations, glassmaking was largely brought to a halt.
Glass Production Started in Asia around 1700 BC (after Ceramics and Metal-Working)
Experts believe that indigenous glassmaking in South Asia began around 1730 BC. Glassmaking actually had a bit of a late start in ancient China in comparison to ceramics and metal work. Glass in this period was used in the manufacture of many objects including beads, vessels, windows and even jewelry.
A Closely Guarded Secret Preserved by the Powerful
By the middle of the 15th century BC, there was extensive glass production occurring in Western Asia, Crete, and Egypt. It's believed that the techniques and recipes that were required for the first fusing of glass from its raw materials were a very closely guarded technological secret, reserved for the palace industries of the powerful states in that time. Glass workers in that time generally relied on cast glass ingots for the ojbects they produced.
Glassmaking Restarted around the 9th Century BC
After this, glass still remained a luxury item, and the previously mentioned disasters brought the production of glass entirely to a halt. It eventually picked up again in its former sites, Syria and Cyprus, in the 9th century BC, at the time that the techniques for making colorless glass were first discovered.
Written Glassmaking Instructions are Produced around 650 BC
The very first glassmaking manual dates back all the way to 650 BC. Instructions for glassmaking were also found in cuneiform tablets that were discovered in the library of Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.
Glassmaking didn't pick up again in Egypt until it was reintroduced in Alexandria many years later. According to Pliny the Elder, Phoenician traders were among the first to actually stumble upon glass manufacturing techniques, over at the site of the Belus River.
Glassmaking Spread around the World and Now Forms a Core Building Block of Modern Life
Glassmaking has now spread throughout the world, becoming as commonplace as any other modern material you'd expect to find. There's even a bridge made out of glass in China that you can see in the picture above!
Glass is Now a Part of Every-day Life and Used in All Sorts of Modern Items
Its application spans things such as windows, jewelry, vessels, electronics, buildings and more, applications that revolutionized the way we transport goods and render services. In fact, it's difficult to imagine a world without glass in our modern age!
Initially Discovered by Accident, it is Now a Core Component of Modern Life
The production of glass, a process that was discovered by accident, took a great deal of expertise to perfect in the ancient world, was lost for a time and then rediscovered, has become one that we truly could not live without in today's modern society.