Discover how the Romans made their glass beads

Discover how the Romans made their glass beads

Scientists at the University of Mainz discover for the first time the techniques used to produce glass beads. This has been achieved thanks to the new technology used, which is based on neutron activation analysis with the help of the TRIGA reactor.

The remains found do not belong to the region of the Rhaetian deposits, in Bavaria, according to the analysis of beads carried out by the TRIGA reactor of the Institute of Nuclear Chemistry of the Johannes Gutenberg Mainz University (JGU). These remains come from different places and most of them date from 30-60 AD. The rest are from the 4th century AD. both from the Roman period.

Sodium was used to make glass, which indicates that they have been drawn near the soda lake, in the excavations near Oberammergau, place of worship for the Rhaetians. Likewise, it has been possible to extract more data on the industry, technology, trade routes and the lifestyle of its people, reports Barbara Karches, of the JGU Institute of Nuclear Chemistry.

Thus, it can be known that the beads were used as jewels and in sacrificial rituals. According to Christian Stieghorst, supervisor of the study, the beads have helped to determine that the settlement dates from the 1st century BC.

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Thanks to Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) technology, which uses radiation produced by the TRIGA reactor, the elements of the bead remains can be identified found in Oberammergau, Heimstätten, Auerberg and Neubiberg.

According to Dr. Gabriele Hampel, the technology works in the following way: “by exposing the material to neutron rays, its core becomes destabilized. Once it recovers its natural state, the nucleus emits gamma radiation with a unique profile of each component and which is useful to identify”. Finally, TRIGA works without damaging the material, Hampel emphasized.

From this radioactive exposure, the researchers have discovered that the beads are made of soda glass with a lower percentage of sodium oxide, indicating that they came from another area such as Soda Lake. Since in ancient times the technology was not available to reach the necessary temperature to melt the material, the manufacturers of these beads had to use other agents such as potash or natural soda.

The beads are quite striking due to their color, obtained thanks to the manipulation of materials with manganese, iron or cobalt.

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Video: Authenticating Ancient Glass