2,000-Year-Old Roman Bowl Discovered Intact in the Netherlands

Unearthed in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, the blue glass artifact was in pristine condition

A close up shot of the blue glass bowl on a table
Experts estimate that the bowl is about 2,000 years old. Courtesy of the Municipality of Nijmegen

Archaeologists working at a dig in the Dutch city of Nijmegen uncovered a well-preserved, 2,000-year-old blue glass bowl late last year, reports Anne Nijtmans for Dutch newspaper de Gelderlander. The palm-sized dish had survived centuries buried underground, remaining perfectly intact with little to no wear.

Researchers and the town government announced the bowl’s discovery last week as archaeologists worked to clear the area—part of the city’s Winkelsteeg business district—ahead of a planned housing development, reports Francesca Aton for ARTNews.

The item is distinguished by its pattern of vertical stripes. “Such dishes were made by allowing molten glass to cool and harden over a mold,” lead archaeologist Pepijn van de Geer tells de Gelderlander, per an ARTNews translation. “The pattern was drawn in when the glass mixture was still liquid. Metal oxide causes the blue color.”

Nijmegen is among the oldest cities in the Netherlands, according to the local Radboud University. (It may even be the oldest, though several cities claim that distinction.) Ancient Romans first established a military camp near the location of present-day Nijmegen in the first century C.E., around the time of the glass bowl’s creation. The settlement expanded and became the first Roman city in the present-day Netherlands, a designation that gave town residents Roman citizenship, per ARTNews.

A person in a bright yellow reflective vest holds the bowl in their hands, which is covered in reddish brown dirt
Archaeologists discovered the bowl at the site of an ancient Roman military settlement in the Netherlands. Courtesy of the Municipality of Nijmegen

Nijmegen’s modern Dutch name derives from the Latin Noviomagus, meaning “new market.” Its location overlooking the Waal river afforded Roman forces a strategic military advantage and access to trade routes, per the university.

Archaeologists suggest that the blue glass bowl might have been made by Roman artisans or carried by traders, given Nijmegen’s unique status as a hub of ancient Roman activity. Van de Greer tells de Gelderlander that the bowl may have been created in glass workshops in Germany or Italy, making it a valuable commodity for trade.

“For the residents of the settlement on the Winkelsteeg, this bowl [had] a great value,” says van de Geer, per ARTNews. He adds that the residents would have had “a great need for leather and liked to buy cattle hides.”

Researchers at Winkelsteeg have also unearthed tombs, dishware and jewelry, as Jasmine Liu reports for Hyperallergic. Per de Gelderlander, the team hopes to continue investigating soil samples from an ancient well discovered at the site to learn more about the crops cultivated in the region.

As for the bowl, Van de Geer believes the “really special” artifact deserves a spot in a museum collection, per Hyperallergic.