Glass was a high-status item in the Late Bronze Age that was used extensively in prestigious artifacts. Much evidence has been uncovered to suggest that early glass making arose in Mesopotamia. But the recent excavation of a site in Egypt suggests that people in the region were adept glassmakers as well, a find that shines new light on how the commodity developed and was traded.

Thilo Rehren of University College London and Edgar B. Pusch of Pelizaeus-Museum in Hildesheim, Germany, discovered a large number of artifacts--including ceramic crucibles (see image) containing remnants of glass inside them--at a site called Qantir-Piramesses on Egypt's Nile Delta. Dating to about 1250 B.C., the artifacts indicate that workers in the large, factorylike environment first heated raw materials in recycled beer jars before crushing and washing the resulting product. In the second step of the process, the glass was colored and heated inside the specialized crucibles to form round pieces known as ingots that could later be reworked into decorative objects.

Most of the glass produced at Qantir was red and produced using a relatively technical process involving copper, the scientists report in the current issue of the journal Science. The discovery, notes Caroline M. Jackson of the University of Sheffield in an accompanying commentary, "reinforces and reappraises the role of glass both within Egyptian society and as an elite material that was exported from Egypt to the Mediterranean world."