Glass-making or glass-working? Yahorlyk settlement in the light of recent research

Keywords: Yahorlyk Bay, Mediterranean, Archaic period, beads, chemical analysis, sand, natron-based glass, plant-ash glass


Due to the absence of direct data on glass-making facilities in the Mediterranean Europe prior to the Hellenistic period, the Yahorlyk workshop (VI century BC) gains a particular importance. The workshop is situated along the coast of Yahorlyk bay, a shallow and long body of water in the Southern Ukraine, Kherson region. It was investigated on numerous occasions since 1972 and yielded abundant evidence of iron-production and bronze-working. The glass objects (remains of vitreous by-products, broken and complete beads etc.) are also common. Over 60 samples of glass were analyzed by A.S. Ostroverkhov and V.A. Galibin in 1980-ies. These results eneabled A.S. Ostroverkhov to put forward a hypothesis of local glass production at the Yahorlyk site. This paper tests this hypothesis on the basis of re-analysis of old dataset and a small series of samples treated by modern, enhanced methods of chemical analysis XRF, SEM-EDS and ICPMS in Hercules laboratory at Evora (Portugal).

The old dataset, when revisited, revealed evidence of three types of glass that were worked by Yahorlyk craftsmen: low magnesia, high magnesia and a particular «third» type, which characteristic for glass pieces of undefined shape. These types are not only different by ratio of potassium and magnesium but also have a variable chemical composition in general. Namely, the percentage of alumina varies greatly: it are almost absent in low magnesia glass and relatively high in high magnesia glass. It is low in the objects of the «third» type as well, making this chemical type similar to low magnesia glass.

The samples of sands were selected at different outcrops around the settlement and the content of rare earth elements (REE) was studied. Several samples were rejected as possible sources of sand for glass production. However, two samples (Qua and Iv-s) demonstrate significant similarities with REE composition in glass beads from Yahorlyk site.

Low magnesia glass beads (biconical beads) form two distinct groups on the graph of REE. Thus, at least two different types of sands were employed in their production. None of the local sand samples resembles chemical composition of biconical beads. Low magnesia glass was imported from elsewhere and the beads were produced from that material on the site.

High magnesia glass beads (mostly eye-beads) appear to correlate in the REE graphs of two sand samples Qua (sand from a quarry on the southern coast of Dnieper bay) and Iv-s (sand from the plane where one of the Dnieper presently non-existent branches entered Yahorlyk bay). The latter has too high content of alumina to be a source of sand for the beads analyzed recently. However, there were several beads with equally high alumina content in the old dataset. The former sediment sample (Qua) corresponds the REE composition of high magnesia beads from the Yahorlyk site and can be a source of raw material for their production. High magnesia glass could be produced at the Yahorlyk workhop and later worked into eye beads there.

Thus, new analyses proved an old hypothesis of A.S. Ostroverkhov about local glass-making at the Yahorlyk workshop. This fact makes the site of Yahorlyk a crucial archaeological source for research on Archaic glass-working in the Pontic Region as well as in the ancient Greece and Mediterranean basin in general.


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How to Cite
KolesnychenkoA., & YatsukO. (2021). Glass-making or glass-working? Yahorlyk settlement in the light of recent research. Eminak: Scientific Quarterly Journal, (1(33), 144-156.
Iron Age