The oldest glass kilns ever discovered in Israel were unearthed at the foot of Mount Carmel near Haifa – exposing an ancient, global glass-production center which serviced the entire Roman Empire.
The archaeological discovery was revealed during an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation prior to the construction of a road being built at the initiative of the Netivei Israel Company. During the excavation, carried out as part of the Jezreel Valley Railway Project between Ha-‘Emekim Junction and Yagur Junction, remains of the oldest kilns in Israel were discovered, where commercial quantities of raw glass were produced.
These kilns are thought to be roughly 1600 years old (dating to the Late Roman period), and indicate that the Land of Israel was one of the foremost centers for glass production in the ancient world.
Yael Gorin-Rosen, head curator of the IAA Glass Department, said: “We know from historical sources dating to the Roman period that the Valley of Akko was renowned for the excellent quality sand located there, which was highly suitable for the manufacture of glass.”
“Chemical analyses conducted on glass vessels from this period which were discovered until now at sites in Europe and in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean basin have shown that the source of the glass is from our region,” she added.
“Now, for the first time, the kilns have been found where the raw material was manufactured that was used to produce this glassware.”
The site was discovered inadvertently last summer by archaeologist Abdel Al-Salam Sa’id, an inspector with the IAA. While overseeing infrastructure work being conducted on the new railway line from Haifa to the east, Sa’id suddenly observed chunks of glass, a floor and an ash layer inside a trench. He immediately halted construction work at the site and began preparations for an archaeological excavation, the results of which are now evident.
The kilns that were revealed consisted of two built compartments: a firebox where kindling was burned to create a very high temperature, and a melting chamber in which the raw materials for the glass (clean beach sand and salt) were inserted and melted together at a temperature of 1,200°C. The materials were heated for a week or two until enormous chunks of raw glass were produced, some of which weighed in excess of ten tons. At the end of the manufacturing process the kilns were cooled; the large glass chunks that were manufactured were broken into smaller pieces and were sold to workshops where they were melted again in order to produce glassware.
During the Early Roman period the use of glass greatly expanded due to its characteristics: its transparency, beauty, the delicacy of the vessels and the speed with which they could be produced by blowing – an inexpensive technique adopted at the time that lowered production costs. Glass was used in almost every household from the Roman period onward, and it was also utilized in the construction of public buildings in the form of windows, mosaics and lighting fixtures. Consequently, large quantities of raw glass were required which were prepared on an industrial scale in specialized centers. The installation that was discovered in the excavation is an example of one of these ancient production facilities.