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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Glass fragment, Swansea and Cairo

A piece of ancient glass over 3000 years old, displayed in Swansea University’s Egypt Centre, has been published with information on its manufacture. It has been identified as being part of an Egyptian vase which is currently in the Cairo Museum. It is on loan from Swansea Museum. Garethe el-Tawab, Curator of Swansea Museum said: “ The loan of this very rare piece of ancient glass by the Museum to our colleagues in the Egypt Centre is a marvellous example of partnership working in international research”. I thought that was a good quote, better than I could have thought up myself.

The fragment, originally belonging to pharaoh Amenhotep II (1427-1400 BC), is 4cm long piece and displays two names of the king in cartouches picked out in red and yellow on a background of brilliant blue. The names are surmounted by red sun-disks and yellow feathers.

The glass fragment was given to Swansea Museum in 1959. Circumstantial evidence suggested it came from the tomb of queen Tiye (wife of king Amenhotep III). Kate Bosse-Griffiths wrote an article about this and other items from the tomb (see references below). It had been given to Swansea Museum by Miss Annie Sprake Jones of Abergwili who received it from her brother Harold Jones. Harold Jones had been employed as an artist in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings in the early 20th century.

German Egyptologist, Birgit Schlick-Nolte contacted the Egypt Centre  and Swansea Museum as she was interested in the manufacture of early Egyptian glass. Kate Bosse-Griffiths, who had earlier curated both the Egypt Centre items and those at Swansea Museum, and Birgit had long ago corresponded on the piece, and both were absolutely sure that the Swansea fragment was part of the vessel in the Cairo Museum which comes from the tomb of Amenhotep II. The complete vessel measures around 40cm in height and consists of a white amphora decorated with brown and light blue decoration.
Glass of this date is extremely rare in Egypt and was often given as diplomatic gifts between the kings of the region. Vessels and other artefacts from the reign of Amenhotep II are part of an extraordinary array of sophisticated techniques from an innovative period of glass production. Large vessels such as that in the Cairo Museum, from which our fragment originated were not even attempted in later years. At this date the manufacture of glass was a royal monopoly and valuable like gold and silver.

The Swansea piece with the king’s name would have been prefabricated and placed upon the body of the vessel while it was still in a molten state. Interestingly, one of the names for glass in ancient Egyptian was ‘the stone that flows’.”

Bosse-Griffiths, K. 1961. Finds from 'The tomb of Queen Tiye' in the Swansea Museum. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 47, 66-70.

Schlick-Nolte, B., Werthmann, R. and Loeben, C. 2011. An outstanding glass statuette owned by pharaoh Amenhotep II and other early Egyptian glass inscribed with royal names', Journal of Glass Studies 53, 11-44.


  1. Cyril Aldred, 'The Harold Jones Collection', JEA 48 (1962), 160-2; pointed out that the Amenhotep II glass fragment alomost certainly came from KV3, and was probably bought from a local dealer along with items from KV55. He noted there that it fitted a vase in the Cairo Museum.

    1. Many thanks Dylan- Paul Nicholson has emailed me to say that Caroline Jackson and Paul Nicholson sampled the piece several years ago and information on its chemistry and provenance will be discussed in a JEA volume in 2013-2014.

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  3. I have also recently found out that the piece was identified as belonging to the piece in Cairo many years ago and have updated the blog to reflect that. Kate and Birgit corresponded on it. It was later mentioned by Cyril Aldred and most recently studied by Birgit. Birgit has also discussed the Cairo amphora in her 1968 thesis and in a now out of print Japanese publication: Birgit Nolte, 'Die Glasgefäße im alten Ägypten', enlarged 2. edition in Japanese, Okayama 1985 published by Kyoto Shoin, Kyoto, by arangement with the author.