Indigeneity and innovation of early Islamic glaze technology: the case of the Coptic Glazed Ware

  • Carmen TingEmail author
  • Itamar Taxel
Original Paper


This study investigates how the technology of Coptic Glazed Ware (CGW) – which is one of the earliest examples of Islamic glazed pottery – was developed, allowing for an insight into the mechanisms that contributed to the making of early Islamic material culture. The range of technologies of 20 CGW samples recovered from different sites in Israel was reconstructed, based on the characterisations by thin-section petrography, optical microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy energy-dispersive spectrometry. Our results show that the samples were originated from Aswan, Egypt. The procurement of kaolinitic clay from local deposits to form the ceramic body and slip, as well as the preference of painting as the principal mode of decoration, represents a continuation of the local fine ware tradition (Egyptian red and white slip ware and Coptic painted ware). The use of lead glaze was more akin to the Byzantine glaze technology. The CGW technology is further distinguished by the use of a diverse range of colourants and how the coloured glazes were prepared. Although individual elements of the CGW technology display influences from preceding and contemporaneous pottery technologies, it was not until the production of CGW that all these elements were combined together for the first time, highlighting the innovative character of the CGW technology. We argue that such innovation was born out of a strong local fine ware tradition that was embedded in the landscape of highly specialized craft production, while stimulating by a desire to establish new identities and new material representations by the Arab-Muslim newcomers.


Glaze technology Mediaeval ceramics Early Islamic period Egypt Levant Technological change 



This research was carried out with funding provided by the European Commission Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions Individual Fellowship 2016 (Grant agreement no.: 750904; Project acronym: GLAZE). We would like to thank Professor Ian Freestone for this expertise and insightful comments on the interpretation of the data used to reconstruct the CGW glaze technology. We are grateful to the directors of excavation, who have kindly granted us with the permission to sample the materials from their respective project. We are equally grateful to the Israel Antiquities Authority for granting us with the permission to extract and export the materials for further analyses. We would also like to thank Tom Gregory at the UCL Wolfson Archaeological Sciences Laboratories for his technical support, Catherine Kneale at the Pitts-River Laboratory for Archaeological Science, University of Cambridge, for the training on digital microscopy, and Emil Aladjem of the Israel Antiquities Authority for preparing Fig. 2.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McDonald Institute for Archaeological ResearchUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Archaeological Research Department, Israel Antiquities AuthorityJerusalemIsrael

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