Had a glass of water today? Every time we follow this simple, healthy human ritual, we are utilizing a resource once such a highly prized commodity that it was reserved for use by the upper classes and considered as valuable as gold.
Glass has always occurred naturally when certain types of rocks melt as a result of volcanic eruptions, lightning and meteorite strikes, and stone-age man employed obsidian for spearheads and cutting tools.
The first truly man-made glass appeared 4000 years ago in Mesopotamia. The discovery was said to be a fortunate accident. Phoenician merchants landed on a beach near Syria to spend the night, and used blocks of the sodium carbonate they were transporting to support their cooking pots beside their camp fire. The blocks melted in the intense heat and blended with the sand beneath them to form an opaque liquid which cooled and hardened to become glass.
Whether this charming story is true or not, it contains a basic but accurate glass recipe - heat plus silica and soda ash - and craftsmen developed the art of successfully mixing these.
The original method used to shape glass is known as casting. It involved heating the glass in an open mould then dipping a solid central core in to coat it with the molten glass before it was cooled and hardened.
As the knowledge of glass-making spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean region, glassmaking centres emerged in various cities. Glass objects were highly prized as jewellery, perfume containers and ornaments, and were employed in the decoration of homes.
Egyptians developed a sophisticated technique in which a tightly packed core of sand was rolled in molten glass. While the outer layer of glass was still soft it was rubbed on a flat stone surface to smooth and shape it. The sand inside was later removed, creating a hollow container.
Syrian craftsmen invented a long thin metal tube that they blew through to create a bubble in the molten glass, and glass-blowing was born.
Romans began blowing glass directly into molds, greatly increasing the variety of shapes possible. Production soared, and the glass industry began. Remarkably, the blow-pipe and the techniques using shapers, benches and molds remain virtually unaltered to this day.
So raise a glass to glass! It has come a long way to our tables, and remains one of the most natural and beautiful of all materials we use daily, and everywhere.