Ancient Egyptian Blue Glass Beads Reached Scandinavia: Chemical Analysis Extends Range of Bronze Age Trade

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, January 24, 2015 | Go to article overview

Ancient Egyptian Blue Glass Beads Reached Scandinavia: Chemical Analysis Extends Range of Bronze Age Trade


Bower, Bruce, Science News


Bronze Age bigwigs in what's now Denmark wore brightly colored glass beads made in the workshops of Egyptian pharaohs and Mesopotamian rulers, a new investigation finds.

Trade routes connected Egypt and Mesopotamia with Denmark by 3,400 years ago and remained active until at least 3,100 years ago, say archaeologist Jeanette Varberg of Moesgaard Museum in Hojbjerg, Denmark, and her colleagues. Chemical analyses of blue beads previously found in Danish Bronze Age graves from that period show that the ornaments originated in glass workshops of Egypt's pharaohs and Fertile Crescent kings, the researchers report in the February Journal of Archaeological Science.

"This is the first evidence of ancient Egyptian glass outside the Mediterranean region," Varberg says. Mesopotamian glass was previously known to have reached as far north as France, she adds.

Egyptian and Mesopotamian glass beads probably reached societies more than 5,000 kilometers away in southern Scandinavia after j passing through extensive sea- and land-based trading networks, says Boston University archaeologist Kathryn Bard, who did not participate in the new study.

Northern Europeans swapped amber for high-end glass objects, Varberg's group proposes. It's already known that Baltic amber, mined along the coasts of Denmark and nearby countries, reached Central European and Mediterranean sites more than 3,000 years ago. Baltic amber was used for a lion-shaped cup from that time previously discovered in Syria and for beads and scarabs found in Egyptian King Tutankhamen's tomb, Varberg says.

In addition, a roughly 3,300-year-old shipwreck discovered off the Turkish coast in 1982 included Baltic amber beads and glass items among its cargo of luxury items, indicating that these goods traveled along common trade routes.

Bright blue glass beads such as those from the ancient Danish graves "make perfect sense" as items that could have been exchanged for Baltic amber, comments archaeometallurgist Thilo Rehren, who directs a campus of University College London in Doha, Qatar. "These new results demonstrate that the globalization of trade is not a modern invention. …

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