Skip to main content

Egyptian faience glazing by the cementation method part 2: cattle dung ash as a possible source of alkali flux


Based on our current awareness, there are three distinct primary sources of alkali flux in the ancient Egyptian faience making: natron, soda rich plant ash and the so-called ‘mixed alkali fluxes’. Whereas the nature and origin of the first two types are identified to some extent, there are more questions regarding mixed alkali fluxes. In an attempt to provide further clarification on the latter source, a series of replication experiments on the production of Egyptian faience by the cementation glazing method were conducted using cattle dung ash as the source of alkali flux. After firing at 980 °C, the appearance of the faience objects, the microstructure and the chemical composition of selected samples obtained using scanning electron microscopy/energy-dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) were investigated. The discussion has primarily focused on cattle dung ash as the most, or one of the most, available sources of ash in ancient societies and its possible use as a source of alkali flux in the production of Egyptian faience, at least by the cementation glazing method.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8


  • Albert RM, Shahack-Gross R, Cabanes D, Gilboa A, Lev-Yadun S, Portello M, Sharon I, Boaretto E, Weiner S (2008) Phytolith-rich layers from the Late Bronze and Iron Ages at Tel Dor (Israel): mode of formation and archaeological significance. J Archaeol Sci 35:57–75

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Braadbaart F, Poole I, Huisman HDJ, Van Os B (2012) Fuel, fire and heat: an experimental approach to ash and char remains from archaeological contexts. J Archaeol Sci 39:836–847

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brill RH (1992) Chemical analyses of some glasses from Frattesina. J Glass Stud 34:11–22

    Google Scholar 

  • Enghag P (2004) Encyclopedia of the elements. Wiley-VCH, Weinheim

  • Harris M (2000) India's sacred cow. In: Goodman AH, Dufur DL, Pelto GH (eds) Nutritional anthropology, biocultural perspectives on food and nutrition. Mayfield, Mountain View, CA, pp 113–118

    Google Scholar 

  • Kenoyer JM (1994) Experimental studies of the Indus valley technology at Harappa. In: Parpola A, Koskikallio P (eds) South Asian Archaeology, 1993, vol 271. Annales Academie Scientiarum Fennicae, Helsinki, pp 345–362

    Google Scholar 

  • Lancelotti C, Madella M (2012) The ‘invisible’ product: developing markers for identifying dung in archaeological contexts. J Archaeol Sci 39:953–963

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Madella M (1997) Phytolith analysis from the Indus Valley site of Kot Diji, Sindh, Pakistan. In: Sinclair A, Slater E, Gowlett J (eds) Archaeological Sciences 1995, Oxbow Monograph 64. Oxbow books, Oxford, pp 294–302

    Google Scholar 

  • Matin M (2014) An experimental investigation into the accidental invention of ceramic glazes. Archaeometry 56:591–600

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Matin M, Matin M (2012) Egyptian faience glazing by the cementation method, part1: an investigation of the glazing powder composition and glazing mechanism. J Archaeol Sci 39:763–767

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller NF (1996) Seed eaters of the ancient Near East: human or herbivore? Curr Anthropol 37:521–528

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reddy SN (1999) Fueling the hearths of India: the role of dung in paleoethnobotanical interpretation. Paléorient 24:61–70

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rehren T (2008) A review of factors affecting the composition of early Egyptian glasses and faience alkali and alkali earth oxides. J Archaeol Sci 35:1345–1354

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rezende L (2007) Chronology of science. Checkmark, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Shahack-Gross R (2011) Herbivorous livestock dung: formation, taphonomy, methods for identification, and archaeological significance. J Archaeol Sci 38:205–218

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shahack-Gross R, Finkelstein I (2008) Subsistence practices in an arid environment: a geoarchaeological investigation in an Iron Age site, the Negev Highlands, Israel. J Archaeol Sci 35:965–982

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shortland AJ (2004) Evaporites of the Wadi Natrun: seasonal and annual variation and its implication for ancient exploitation. Archaeometry 46:497–516

  • Shortland A, Schachner L, Freestone I, Tite M (2006) Natron as a flux in the early vitreous materials industry: sources, beginnings and reasons for decline. J Archaeol Sci 33:521–530

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sillar B (2000) Dung by preference: the choice of fuel as an example of how Andean pottery production is embedded within wider technical, social and economic practices. Archaeometry 42:43–60

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tite MS, Shortland AJ (2008) Production technology of faience and related vitreous materials, Oxford University School of Archaeology: Monograph 72, Oxford University School of Archaeology

  • Tite MS, Shortland AJ, Maniatis Y, Kavoussanaki D, Harris S (2006) The composition of the soda-rich and mixed alkali plant ashes used in the production of glass. J Archaeol Sci 33:1284–1292

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wulff HE (1966) The traditional crafts of Persia. M.I.T, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Wulff HE, Wulff H, Koch L (1968) Egyptian faience: a possible survival in Iran. Archaeology 21:98–107

    Google Scholar 

  • Yaghobi M (2002) /1381, Gozareshi az sakhte mohrehaye sonati dar Qom, Name-I Qom, 17 & 18, pp. 145–149

Download references


This project was financed by the Shex Porcelain Co. The authors wish to thank Yazdan Ghasseminia for his contribution in the preparation of raw materials and replication samples, and Sadjad Zamani for providing raw materials from Yazd. Mahmoud Nader is thanked for his help with the figures and photographs. We are also grateful to the anonymous referees for their detailed comments, which have significantly improved the original manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Moujan Matin.

Additional information

This paper is dedicated to the late Dr. Hans E. Wulff who conducted pioneering studies on the cementation glazing process.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Matin, M., Matin, M. Egyptian faience glazing by the cementation method part 2: cattle dung ash as a possible source of alkali flux. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 8, 125–134 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: