Tags

, , ,

(thanks to Paul Ferguson for the tip)
Were found in a privy in Oxford a few years ago. What is it with people and privies, they dump anything down them, especially when they are filling them up. Or maybe someone was told to get rid of it all by his college superiors; after all the practise of alchemy had been banned by various holy orders and such since the 1380’s, and Pope john XXII was against making coins out of alchemically made gold and silver. The late 13th/ early 14th century was one of the low points in acceptance of alchemy in Europe.

So, what they found were bits of glass alembics, and glass urinals, used by physicians to inspect the colour and cloudiness of the patients urine. The pottery was of a local clay, used to make tall thin bottles, a skillet, jars, pipkins a cruet and suchlike. The skillet, interestingly enough, has bubbly damage that it has been suggested was caused by acid. Many of the pieces of pottery had damage from vitrification, i.e. they had been placed in a hot fire next to ash, which would then form glass. Finally, there were pieces of fired clay, some with holes in, the suggestion being that the holes were for tuyeres. Personally, I would be more convinced if I could see the fragments themselves, and 2.1kg of them isn’t much for a (suggested) portable furnace. (Although the privy was not fully excavated, maybe there is more down there!)

What makes this exciting is that it is a comparatively large assemblage, the 2nd largest found to date. Moreover, it is very early, but yet we find nice glass alembics in England. And it is associated with Oxford, Christ Church college, the laboratory being in Vine hall.
Although I would add that it might not have been used for alchemy. Maybe they distilled wine in it, since that was just getting popular across Europe in the late 13th/ early 14th centuries. Maybe it is evidence of the earliest manufacture of spirits in Britain>

There’s a short article on it, from which I got my information, here.

Advertisements