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Proceedings Paper

The fascinating early history of optics! Archaeological optics 2009: our knowledge of the early history of lenses, mirrors, and artificial eyes!
Author(s): Jay M. Enoch
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Paper Abstract

The early history of optics and vision science (older term: physiological optics) is indeed fascinating. The earliest known true lenses have been found in "eyes" of Egyptian statues which contain superb, complex, and well-polished eye-lens units. The oldest ones known are dated circa 2575 BCE = BC, Dynasty IV, Old Kingdom. These eye-lens units induce a fascinating and powerful visual illusion, but they are just too good to have been the first lenses, or even the first lenses of this design! So saying, no earlier dateable lenses have been found in Egypt or elsewhere. Recently, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the writer noted a previously undetected lens in this series (a first in the Western Hemisphere). Oddly, dateable simpler magnifying lenses and burning glasses seem to have appeared later in time (?)! Manufactured mirrors are quite a bit older, dating from circa 6000 BCE in atal Hyk, located in south-central modern-day Turkey. Using these ancient mirrors, the image quality obtained is remarkable! Recently discovered ancient artificial eyes, located, in situ, in exhumed corpses, have been dated circa 3000 BCE (one discovered in Iran) and 5000 BCE (one found in Spain). On the 3000 BCE artificial eye, there are drawn light rays (the writer believes these to be the oldest known depiction of light rays!) spreading out from (or passing into) the iris/ pupil border! Added interesting aspects associated with the early development of light-rays are considered. Thus, early optics can be readily traced back to the Neolithic era (the new stone age), and in some cases before that time period. We have deep roots indeed!

Paper Details

Date Published: 21 August 2009
PDF: 42 pages
Proc. SPIE 7428, Current Developments in Lens Design and Optical Engineering X, 742803 (21 August 2009); doi: 10.1117/12.828453
Show Author Affiliations
Jay M. Enoch, Univ. of California, Berkeley (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7428:
Current Developments in Lens Design and Optical Engineering X
Pantazis Z. Mouroulis; R. Barry Johnson; Virendra N. Mahajan, Editor(s)

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