“Man has been making glass since the third millennium BC and during the manufacture of ancient glass, antimony, in a metal or mineral form, was added to make it colorless or opaque.
Different antimony ores have slightly different antimony isotope ratios and researchers in Belgium and the UK have developed an inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) method to detect and quantify these tiny differences.
By analyzing samples of Roman glass, the team hope to uncover clues about how the glass was made and the geographical provenance of the raw materials.
Initial results suggest antimony ores from at least two locations were used to make the Roman glass being analyzed.
‘We hope to be able to geographically localize these sources and, thus, reveal information as to the origin of antimony used for thousands of years in the art of making glass,’ says Frank Vanhaecke from Ghent University, who led the research.
By performing isotope analysis on a series of elements found in glass the team ultimately want to reveal the origin of various starting materials and reconstruct the entire glass manufacturing process and associated trade routes.
Kalliopi Nikita, an expert in the archaeology of glass at the University of Nottingham, UK, believes this is promising work.”
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