Chemical analysis and computed tomography of metallic inclusions in Roman glass to unveil ancient coloring methods

Sci Rep. 2021 May 27;11(1):11187. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-90541-8.


This paper describes the analysis of two near-spherical metallic inclusions partially incorporated within two Roman raw glass slags in order to elucidate the process that induced their formation and to determine whether their presence was related to ancient glass colouring processes. The theory of metallic scraps or powder being used in Roman times for glass-making and colouring purposes is widely accepted by the archaeological scientific community, although the assumption has been mainly based on oral traditions and documented medieval practices of glass processing. The analysis of the two inclusions, carried out by X-ray computed tomography, electrochemical analyses, and scanning electron microscopy, revealed their material composition, corrosion and internal structure. Results indicate that the two metallic bodies originated when, during the melting phase of glass, metal scraps were added to colour the material: the colloidal metal-glass system reached then a supersaturation condition and the latter ultimately induced metal expulsion and agglomeration. According to the authors' knowledge, these two inclusions represent the first documented and studied finds directly associated with the ancient practise of adding metallic agents to colour glass, and their analysis provides clear insights into the use of metallic waste in the glass colouring process.