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Robert H. Brill

Author of Science and Archaeology

Includes the names: Robert Brill, Robert H. Brill

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Dr Robert Brill is in the field of archaeological science, best known for his work on the chemical analysis of ancient glass. Born in the United States of America in 1929, Brill attended West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey, before going on to study for his B.S. degree at Upsala College, also New Jersey (Brill 1993a, Brill 2006, Getty Conservation Institute 2009). Having completed his Ph.D in Physical Chemistry at Rutgers University in 1954, Brill was to return to Upsala College to teach chemistry himself until 1960 when he joined the staff of the Corning Museum of Glass as their second research scientist (Corning Museum of Glass, 2009)

Throughout his lengthy career at Corning, where a four-year directorship punctuated his time as a research scientist, Brill was a forerunner in the scientific investigation of glass, glazes and colorants, developing and challenging the usefulness of emerging techniques. His pioneering work with the application of lead and oxygen isotope analysis in archaeology led him occasionally to add the investigation of metal objects to his portfolio so that, together, his published works number more than 160 (Brill and Wampler 1967). Perhaps the most famous of these is his Chemical Analyses of Early Glass, a sum of his 39 years of work and now a seminal reference guide in the field (Brill 1999).

Brill is a strong proponent of interdisciplinary cooperation as well as the collaboration between scientists across the world, and has served since 1982 on the International Commission of Glass. Within this he founded TC17, the technical committee for the Archaeometry of Glass, which lists among its aims the ‘promotion of collaboration among glass specialists in widely separated countries’ and the stimulation and encouragement of glass scientists ‘in developing countries’ (Archaeometry of Glass 2005). His internationalism is aptly demonstrated by his study of glasses from around the world, with his attentions most recently being focused on those from the Silk Road. Here, as with other areas of Brill’s remarkable career, it seems he was attracted by the lack of previous study and the need for further development in the field. Seeing a disparity between contemporary knowledge of glasses from the western world and those from East Asia, Brill was keen to add insight to a hitherto unexploited field and, as such, has gone on to contribute a great deal to Silk Road studies (Brill 1993b).

The broad span of Brill’s career allows this paper to provide only an abridged synopsis of his métier and published works to date. Focusing on Brill’s achievements during the decades after he joined the Corning Museum in February 1960, it aims to highlight areas in which Brill pioneered new techniques and improved existing ones, offering summaries of major publications and proposing sources the interested reader may turn to for more information (Brill 1999).
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