Glass History

Nuggets of natural obsidian black glass

Ever wondered where glass came from? Here are a few important events in glass history.

Many Stone-Age Societies Used Naturally-Occurring Glass

Before glassmaking was invented, many Stone Age societies across the planet used naturally occurring glass, especially the volcanic glass obsidian.

They used this natural glass to produce sharp cutting tools, and both the glass itself and items made from it were extensively traded.

True Glass Production Started around 3500 BC in the Middle East, Perhaps as an Accident

Ancient blue glass beads from Egypt

Archaeologists believe that the first efforts to make glass happened in 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 are the earliest known objects made from glass. It's commonly believed that they were first created as accidental by-products of metal-working, or during the production of faience, which was a pre-glass material that was made through a process 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 earliest of these 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.

Early glass was considered a luxury material, so glassmaking was largely brought to a halt after the disasters that struck Bronze Age civilizations.

Glass Production Started in Asia around 1700 BC (after Ceramics and Metal-Working)

Ancient glass ball made in China

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 metalwork. 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 for making early glass were a very closely guarded technological secret, reserved for the palace industries of the powerful states in that time.

Glassworkers in that time generally relied on cast glass ingots for the objects they produced.

Glassmaking Restarted around the 9th Century BC

Roman blue glass bowl

Up until this point, glass was still considered a luxury item, so when the early civilizations that produced it came to an end, the production of glass also came to a halt.

It eventually picked up again at its former sites, Syria and Cyprus, in the 9th century BC. This is when the techniques for making colorless glass were first discovered.

Written Glassmaking Instructions were First 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 re-discover glass manufacturing techniques, at the site of the Belus River.

Glass Has Spread around the World and Now Forms a Core Building Block of Modern Life

Man on glass bridge in China

In the millennia since it was originally discovered, glass has spread around the world and integrated itself into our modern life.

Glass is now one of the most common materials we see every day. There's even a bridge made out of glass in China that you can see in the picture above!

So many items are made out of glass, from windows, jewelry, vessels, electronics, buildings and more, that it's difficult to imagine a world without it!

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.

Now the next time you chip your windshield and need a mobile chip repair at your home in Gilbert or a new windshield installed at your office in Scottsdale, you'll know a little more about where today's glass came from!