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The History of Sea Glass

Ask a sea glass hunter what it is that they love most about searching through the pebbles and tidelines, and the answer usually entails finding out about the history of a piece they find. By looking at the thickness, colour and whether there are bubbles or curves, you can often hazard a guess at the previous life of the small shard of glass that has been found.

Glass has been made by humans for thousands of years, 4000 or thereabouts. By mixing sand, soda and lime, the people of Mesopotamia (Western Asia) were able to create glass in open moulds.

Whilst you would be incredibly lucky to find glass from the sea that is even close to this age (the oldest known piece is 1500 years old, an Egyptian blue goblet), you may well find pieces that are 200 years old. To find them whole is unlikely, but large shards, or bottle bases often land on the shorelines.

Global location plays a part in how much glass lands on the beach, alongside coastal erosion, shipping routes and whether harbours were in that locale. For example, in the UK, glass is most prolific in Seaham, North-East England where there used to be a glass making factory that would release excess product into the sea. For this reason, not only is glass prolific here, but also incredibly interesting in colour, with 'multis' a regular find.

Another area that has a large amount of glass is Lyme Bay. There is an old coastal Victorian rubbish tip that is eroding into the sea. This means a lot of glass finds enter the sea at this point. Some bits found can look fresh but actually be decades or a century old. Near the tip itself, whole bottles can be found, which is an utter delight for bottle diggers, who work alongside fossil hunters and metal detectorists to find newly released finds including coins, ammonites, even toilets and parts of cars!

Certainly for many sea glass hunters, smooth pieces are the best finds, visually pleasing they look like sea made gems, often perfectly circular or with a tear drop shape. These can be made into art, jewellery and other household items, or kept in a collection on display.

Over the coming months, this blog will discuss different colours and shapes of glass, and what they might have been, building up a picture of how different items might look after tumbling through the waves for many years.

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