Floors of ancient Greek luxury villa were laid with recycled glass

floors in ancient gree 1

Although this 1700 years old luxury villa was excavated and examined in 1856 and the 1990s, it still has secrets to reveal.

An international research team has now revealed new secrets, with Professor and expert in archaeometry Kaare Lund Rasmussen from the University of Southern Denmark leading the so-called archaeometric analyses: using chemical analysis to determine which elements an object was made of, how it has been processed, etc. reports Phys.org

Others in the team are Thomas Delbey from Cranfield University in England and the classical archaeologists Birte Poulsen and Poul Pedersen from Aarhus University and the University of Southern Denmark. The team's work is published in Heritage Science, including an archaeometric analysis of 19, approximately 1600 years old mosaic tesserae.

One of seven wonders of the world

The tesserae originate from an excavation of a villa from late antiquity, located in Halikarnassos (today Bodrum in Anatolia, Turkey). Halikarnassos was famous for King Mausolus' giant and lavish tomb, considered one of the world's seven wonders.

The villa was laid out around two courtyards, and the many rooms were adorned with mosaic floors. In addition to geometric patterns, there were also motifs of various mythological figures and scenes taken from Greek mythology, e.g. Princess Europa being abducted by the god Zeus in the form of a bull and Aphrodite at sea in her seashell.

Motifs from the stories of the much younger Roman author Virgil are also represented.

Inscriptions on the floor have revealed that the owner was named Charidemos and that the villa was built in the mid-fifth century.

A costly luxury

Mosaic flooring was a costly luxury: expensive raw materials like white, green, black, and other colours of marble had to be transported from distant quarries. Other stone materials, ceramics and glasses also had to be imported.

"I received 19 mosaic tesserae for analysis in my lab in Denmark. Of these, seven were of glass in different colours; purple, yellow, red, and deep red. My conclusion is that six of them are probably made of recycled glass," says Kaare Lund Rasmussen.

This conclusion is based on a chemical analysis called inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. With it, the research team has determined the concentrations of no less than 27 elements, some of them all the way down to a concentration of billionths of a gram.

The waning of the Roman Empire—We were able to distinguish between the base glass from Egypt and base glass from the Middle East, and also, we could determine which elements were added by the ancient craftsmen to colour the glasses and to make them opaque, which was preferred at the time, he says.

It is difficult to extrapolate from only seven glass mosaic tesserae, but the new results fit very well with the picture of Anatolia in late antiquity. As the power of the Roman Empire waned, trade routes were closed or rerouted. This probably led to a shortage of goods in many places—including raw materials for glass production in Anatolia.

This, together with the stories depicted on the floors, allows the classical archaeologists to put together a more detailed picture of what was fashionable in late antiquity and the possibilities for the artistic unfolding.