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The Glass Making Crucibles from Ile-Ife, SW Nigeria

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Crucibles to melt glass are very rare in archaeological contexts in sub-Saharan Africa. Recent archaeological excavations at Igbo Olokun, Ile-Ife (Southwest Nigeria) revealed abundant fragments of glass crucibles from 11th-15th century AD deposits, matching the complete and near complete examples earlier reported from Ile-Ife. This paper provides an in-depth examination of these crucible fragments in order to understand the material quality of the crucibles, their typology, and their functions in glass- working/making. Optical microscopic and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) with energy dispersive spectrometry (EDS) analyses were carried out on ten crucible samples. The composition of ceramic fabrics and the adhering glass are presented and discussed in view of their function. The crucibles were produced from specifically selected highly refractory clay and used for melting glass from its raw materials; colorants were added to the melt in the crucible. The useable capacity of the crucibles varied from 1 to 7 liters, equivalent to about 2.5 to 17.5 kg of finished glass for each crucible. Compositional analysis of a sample of the thousands of glass beads from the excavations indicates that the crucibles were used to melt the glass used in the beads. Archaeological evidence of glass bead making at this scale has not previously been reported from West Africa. The crucibles are unique evidence of indigenous glass-working/making in Sub-Saharan Africa from early through mid-second millennium AD.Les creusets utilisés pour la fabrication du verre sont rares dans les contextes archéologiques de l’Afrique sub-Saharienne. Des fouilles récentes du site d’Igbo Olokun à Ile-Ife (sud-ouest du Nigéria) ont révélé de nombreux fragments de creusets de verrerie provenant de dépôts des XI e-XV e siècles de notre ère, semblables aux exemples complets ou presque complets déjà connus. Cette contribution propose un examen approfondi de ces fragments de creusets pour documenter leurs caractéristiques matérielles, leur typologie et leur fonction dans le processus de fabrication du verre. Des analyses par microscopie optique et par MEB/EDS ont été conduites sur un échantillon de 10 fragments. La composition de la pâte céramique et celle des adhésions de verre sont présentées et discutées en lien avec leur fonction. Les creusets étaient produits à l’aide d’une argile sélectionnée spécifiquement pour ses qualités hautement réfractaire puis utilisés pour obtenir du verre à partir de matière brute. Des colorants étaient ajoutés au mélange dans les creusets. Le volume utile des creusets variait de 1 à 7 litres, équivalent à une production de verre d’environ 2,5 à 17,5 kg. L’analyse de la composition d’un échantillon des milliers de perles en verre retrouvées lors des fouilles indique que la matière première utilisée pour produire ces dernières a bien été fondue dans ces creusets. C’est la première fois que l’on documente en Afrique de l’Ouest un assemblage archéologique illustrant la production de perles en verre à une telle échelle. Les creusets sont des témoignages uniques de l’existence dans l’Afrique sub-Saharienne de la première moitié du second millénaire de notre ère d’une industrie locale de production de verre et, probablement, de sa transformation en perles.This article is in English.

Affiliations: 1: Rice University Houston TexasCorresponding author ; 2: UCL Institute of Archaeology LondonUKCurrent address: The Cyprus Institute, Science and Technology in Archaeology Research Center ; 3: Middlesex County College Edison, New Jersey ; 4: Rice University Houston Texas


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