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AHRC research provides earliest archaeological evidence for Saxon Britain glass industry

Date: 10/05/2012

Research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and led by the University of Reading has revealed that finds at Glastonbury Abbey provide the earliest archaeological evidence of glass-making in Britain.

Professor Roberta Gilchrist, from the Department of Archaeology, has re-examined the records of excavations that took place at Glastonbury in the 1950s and 1960s.

Professor Gilchrist said: Glastonbury Abbey is a site of international historical importance but until now the excavations have remained unpublished. The research project reveals new evidence for the early date of the monastery at Glastonbury and charts its development over one thousand years, from the 6th century to its dissolution in the 16th century.

Glass furnaces recorded in 1955-7 were previously thought to date from before the Norman Conquest. However, radiocarbon dating has now revealed that they date approximately to the 680s, and are likely to be associated with a major rebuilding of the abbey undertaken by King Ine of Wessex. Glass-making at York and Wearmouth is recorded in historical documents in the 670s but Glastonbury provides the earliest and most substantial archaeological evidence for glass-making in Saxon Britain.

The extensive remains of five furnaces have been identified, together with fragments of clay crucibles and glass for window glazing and drinking vessels, mainly of vivid blue-green colour. The glass will be analysed chemically to provide further information on the sourcing and processing of materials.

An exhibition at Glastonbury Abbey Museum, ‘From Fire & Earth’, tells the story of the Abbey's pioneering role in medieval crafts and technology, and runs until 16 September 2012.

The full archive of excavations will be brought to publication by Professor Gilchrist, in partnership with the Trustees of Glastonbury Abbey and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Radiocarbon dating was funded by the Somerset Archaeology & Natural History Society and the Society for Medieval Archaeology. Specialist analyses of the glass are being undertaken by Dr Hugh Willmott (University of Sheffield) and Dr Kate Welham (University of Bournemouth).

Notes to editors:

  • AHRC Media contact: Jake Gilmore, Communications Manager, 01793 416021; j.gilmore@ahrc.ac.uk
  • Glastonbury Abbey http://www.glastonburyabbey.com/
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): Each year the AHRC provides approximately £98 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from languages and law, archaeology and English literature to design and creative and performing arts. In any one year, the AHRC makes hundreds of research awards ranging from individual fellowships to major collaborative projects as well as over 1,000 studentship awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

 

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