National Geographic : 1989 Nov
:....: /, Class, innm nnninn PAUL BREEDEN fn,..n',.mi ,nn"ninntg,:, ,., . , IIUII a C11bii1 treasure to modern trophy ewel-colored bottles brought up from an Aegean shipwreck, an en graved globe awarded to an eminent scientist-glass, this most fragile substance, spans the centuries in service of humankind. The history of glass is liter ally built on sand. No one knows who discovered that super-heated sand (silica) turns into molten glass or that adding substances (soda, lime) to this hot mixture improves and strengthens the final prod uct. In fact the process of glassmaking may have been discovered by accident. Still, it was discovered early on; glass beads found in Egypt date from 2500 B.C. The ancient Egyptians crafted glass bottles and jars to hold their unguents and perfumes. These contain ers were so costly that only nobles could afford them. Islamic glassmakers were among the most skilled of the ancient world. They developed the difficult manufacture of transparent glassware. In 1977 marine archaeologist Dr. George Bass excavated a sunk en cache of such glass in a 1,000-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Turkey (see NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, June 1978). His finds included glazed pottery plates and col orful bottle shards, as well as perfectly intact clear glass tumblers, bottles, and bowls. After three summers of exca vation, Dr. Bass and his col leagues-with funding from the National Science Foundation, Na tional Geographic Society, and Cor ning Glass Works Foundation-found more than 200 dif ferent forms of an cient glassware. In 1988 the Na tional Geographic Society celebrated its centennial year by making special awards to 15 leaders in various scientific fields. The award included an engraved crystal globe de signed by Steuben artist James Houston. Among the awardees stood Dr. George Bass, founder of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University. He was hon ored for transferring "the tech niques of classical land archaeology to the seabed [and] excavating-and on oc casion even restoring-ancient shipwrecks to deepen our knowledge of early civiliza tions." Through his hands have passed some of the most remarkable glass of the ages from ancient trea sure to modern trophy.