50 shades of colour
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Roman glass is studied here by means of optical absorption spectroscopy, in order to provide an objective method to quantitatively evaluate colour. The dataset is composed of 165 soda-lime silicate glass samples from various western European sites, mainly dated from the first to fourth century AD, and containing variable amounts of iron, manganese and/or antimony. Iron redox ratios and colour coordinates (based on the CIELab colour system) are determined and put in relation with the thickness of samples and their manganese/antimony contents. Results reveal thickness as a crucial parameter when discussing glass hues, thus leading to a differentiation between the ‘intrinsic’ and ‘perceived’ colour of glass objects (i.e. the colour of the object with the thickness normalised to 1 mm, and that with its original thickness, respectively). Apart from HIMT and purple glass, the concentration of ferrous iron appears to be correlated with a* — a colourimetric parameter determining how green the glass is. Significant relations of antimony/manganese contents versus iron redox and glass colour are also considered, resulting in quantitative arguments to entitle antimony-decoloured glass as the most oxidised and colourless glass.