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Keywords:

  • ancient glass trade beads;
  • pigment identification;
  • Fe-S chromophore

Abstract

Oblate seed beads (2–4 mm) excavated on Mapungubwe hill, an Iron Age site in South Africa, were analysed with Raman microscopy and supportive techniques to determine the glass technology and pigments used to produce the beads. The Raman spectra and XRF analysis of the beads classify the glass as a typical soda/lime/potash glass similar to Islamic glass from the 8th century (Ommayad), but with higher levels of aluminium, iron and magnesium. The turquoise, bright green, bright yellow and orange colours were obtained by utilizing a combination of cassiterite (SnO2) and lead tin yellow type II (PbSn1−xSixO3). Doping with cobalt and manganese produced dark blue and plum-coloured beads. The Fe-S chromophore was detected through its resonance-enhanced spectrum in the black beads. Corrosion of the black beads was investigated and an organic phase detected on the beads, which might have influenced the corrosion process. This detailed profile of the glass technology used to produce the Mapungubwe oblates might eventually help to determine their provenance. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.