‘Alexandrian’ glass confirmed by hafnium isotopes
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-68089-w
Archaeological glass contains information about the movement of goods and ancient economies, yet our understanding of critical aspects of the ancient glass industry is fragmentary. During Roman times, distinct glass types produced in coastal regions of Egypt and the Levant used evaporitic soda (natron) mixed with Nile-derived sands. In the Levant, furnaces for producing colourless Roman glass by addition of manganese have been uncovered, whereas the source of the desirable antimony-decolourised Roman glass remains an enigma. In the Edict of Diocletian, this colourless glass is listed as "Alexandrian" referring to Egypt, but its origin has been ambiguous. Previous studies have found overlapping strontium and neodymium isotope ratios for Levantine and Egyptian glass. Here, we confirm these findings and show for the first time, based on glasses from the ancient city of Gerasa, that hafnium (Hf) isotopes are different in Egyptian and Levantine natron glasses, and that Sb Roman glass is Egyptian. Our work illustrates the value of Hf isotopes in provenancing archaeological glass. We attribute the striking difference in Hf isotopes of Egyptian versus Levantine glasses to sorting of zircons in Nile sediments during longshore drift and aeolian transport along the south-eastern Mediterranean coast leaving behind a less juvenile fraction.