Re-creating An Islamic Glass Vessel Discovered At Caerlaverock Castle

Tiny sherds of glass unearthed at Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfriesshire, way back in the 1990s have inspired people to imagine what the amazing Islamic vessel that they came from would have looked like.

Caerlaverock Castle was built around 1290.

The castle can only be approached from the N. Here there is a rectangular outer courtyard on the slope of the hill; it is entered by a round-arched stone gateway of uncertain date at its NE corner. A low bank round the courtyard suggests that it may once have been defended. Triangular on plan, the castle has massive twin drum-towers and a backing keep or gatehouse at the apex, and circular flanking towers at the other two angles, that to the SW remaining entire. High curtain walls link these towers, enclosing a courtyard; subsidiary buildings have been erected against these walls by a wide moat, beyond which have been earthworks and outer ditches, some of which were modified to create defences during the 1640 siege.

Canmore

The three fragments of Islamic glass are the first and only glass of its kind to be found at an archaeological site in Scotland, it is believed that the original vessel would have been made in modern-day Syria, Iraq or Egypt during the 12th and 13th centuries, all of which were important centres of Islamic glassmaking.

The fragments are inscribed with part of the Arabic word for ‘eternal’, likely used as one of the 99 names of Allah, which suggests that it could be an extract from the Qur’an.  Although tiny in size – at 3.1cm x 2.8cm – the two fragments together are smaller than a ping pong ball and give clues to Scotland’s contact with the wider world during the medieval period. 

Image Historic Environment Scotland

Click on this link for a Sketchfab 3D image: Glass Vessel Fragment A, Old Caerlaverock Castle

Stirlingshire-based visual artist Alice Martin researched contemporaneous medieval Islamic glass and worked with a team of experts from HES who used state-of-the-art techniques to analyse the fragments and produce 3D data.

Alice Martin said:

“The fragments are decorated with an Arabic inscription that would have been wrapped around the circumference of the beaker when it was complete.

“Scientific analysis has shown there would once have been red and gold decoration, as well as the blue and white that’s still visible. This type of Islamic glass was thought to be valuable, it’s very precise and delicate.

“From the scientific evidence, research and known history, we thoroughly considered how an Islamic glass drinking beaker ended up in Scotland, and we suspect it may have come to Caerlaverock Castle through trade or could even have been brought back by returning crusaders.”

Image credit Historic Environment Scotland

A community project, Eternal Connections, including the Muslim Scouts in Edinburgh and the Glasgow-based AMINA – Muslim Women’s Resource Centre, has provided a series of informative workshops centred on the story of the Islamic glass.

The workshops focused on the beaker shape, decorative designs and calligraphy using Arabic script and Gaelic onto 3D prints. Other elements focused on archaeology and demonstrated the technology used to analyse the glass fragments.

HES received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Capability for Collections Fund to purchase the scientific and digital equipment used to analyse the glass fragments and the follow-on Public Engagement Fund to deliver the Eternal Connections project.

At the moment Caerlaverock Castle is closed whilst there are inspections to the masonry.

An interactive online experience has been created using the ThingLink platform to share the project outcomes .

DeFacto, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons