The Glass Economy


November/December 2017

Trenches Nigeria Glass Beads BlockResearchers working in southwestern Nigeria have uncovered thousands of glass beads, fragments of crucibles, and other evidence of glass production at the site of Igbo Olokun in the ancient Yoruba city of Ile-Ife. Excavators have discovered examples of a type of soda-lime glass that was likely brought to the area by Islamic traders, as well as a much greater number of locally produced glass beads. According to Abidemi Babalola of Harvard University, who led the research, these beads, which the community valued for rituals, healing, and trade, could have been the product of a unique local glass production formula that turned Ile-Ife into a major manufacturing center between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. “The geology of Ile-Ife certainly supports glass production, which could have inspired local exploration and experimentation,” Babalola explains. “The question is whether dwindling local production necessitated importation, or contact with imported glass inspired the experimentation.”