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       Ancient Lenses: (Optical Lenses)

The Nimrud lens: Whatever its origin, as ornament, as magnifying lens or part of a telescope, the Nimrud lens is the oldest lens in the world. Looking at it evokes mystery and wonder. It can be seen in room 55 of the British Museum, in case 9 of the Lower Mesopotamian Gallery. However unusual this object seems at first, it is not unique. In fact there are several hundred reported lenses now on record from around the ancient world.

To date, the earliest lenses identified in context are from the IV/V Dynasties of Egypt, dating back to about 4,500 years ago (e.g., the superb `Le Scribe Accroupi' and `the Kai' in the Louvre; added fine examples are located in the Cairo Museum). Latter examples have been found in Knossos (Minoan [Herakleion Museum]; ca. 3,500 years ago)(6)

It may not be unique. Another, possibly 5th century BC, lens was found in a sacred cave on Mount Ida on Crete. It was more powerful and of far better quality than the Nimrud lens.

Also, Roman writers Pliny and Seneca refer to a lens used by an engraver in Pompeii. So perhaps the ancients knew more about lenses than we give them credit for.  (1)

(It only takes two lenses together in a tube and you have a telescope)

 

   Ancient Optical Lenses:

Quote from Robert Temple 'Forbidden Technology', 2009:

'I have found in museums all over the world, more than 450 ancient optical artefacts, most of them lenses, but in any case, magnifying aids.

These ancient lenses generally magnify about 1.5 or 2 times. Heinrich Schliemann (left), the 19th century discoverer of Troy, excavated 48 rock crystal lenses at Troy. This is one of the largest hoards of ancient lenses ever found. These were unfortunately lost for many decades because they were with the missing Trojan gold hoard which disappeared from the Berlin Museum at the end of the Second World War. In recent years the Russians have admitted that the Red Army stole the gold and it is all in Moscow today. The 48 lenses are with these gold artefacts.

Another large number of crystal lenses exist in Crete, mostly found at Knossos. And yet another hoard exists at Ephesus, in Turkey, though those ones are very unusual because they are concave lenses used to correct for myopia (short-sightedness), some shrinking images by as much as 75%.

Most ancient lenses are convex and were used to magnify. At Carthage there are 14 glass lenses and two of rock crystal stored in a drawer in the museum; they have apparently never been displayed.

Egypt too has examples one pair of glass lenses was excavated from the wrappings of a mummy and obviously were used as spectacles except that loops around the ears for modern style spectacles seem not to have been invented in ancient times. So these may have had some kind of nose loop or may have been held as a lorgnette.

The oldest evidence of a sophisticated optical capability which I have found goes back as far as 3300 BC. An ivory knife handle was excavated in the 1990s from a pre-dynastic grave of that date at Abydos in Egypt. It belonged to a king. It bears microscopic carvings which could only have been made with, and can only be seen with, a magnifying glass'.

 

 

The Viking Lenses:

Article: ( April 2000) The Viking Lenses: 'Did the Vikings Make A Telescope'.

The Vikings could have been using a telescope hundreds of years before Dutch spectacle makers supposedly invented the device in the late 16th century.

This remarkable possibility has emerged from a study of sophisticated lenses just recognised from a Viking site on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.

"It seems that the elliptical lens design was invented much earlier that we thought and then the knowledge was lost," says Dr Olaf Schmidt, of Aalen University in Germany.

"The surface of some of the lenses have an almost perfect elliptical shape," Dr Schmidt said. "They were obviously made on a turning lathe."

But it seems clear that the Vikings did not make the lenses themselves. "There are hints that the lenses may have been manufactured in [the ancient empire of] Byzantium or in the region of Eastern Europe," Dr Schmidt said.

Some of the lenses can be seen at Gotland's Fornsal, the historical museum in Visby. Some are in the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm. Others have been lost.

(Link to Full Article)

 

Greek Lenses:

Aristophanes in The clouds (420 BC) describes the light focus effect of a lens:

STREPSIADES: Have you ever seen a beautiful, transparent stone at the druggists', with which you may kindle fire?
SOCRATES: You mean a crystal lens.
STREPSIADES: That's right. Well, now if I placed myself with this stone in the sun and a long way off from the clerk, while he was writing out the conviction, I could make all the wax, upon which the words were written, melt.

Two lenses of optical quality are on display at the Heraklion Museum of ancient Cretan civilization. As many as fifty were reported as having been found in the excavations of Troy, though only a handful have been properly published. Some lenses from these sites have impressive magnifying powers. One lens, probably of the fifth century B.C., found in Crete, can magnify with perfect clarity up to seven times. If it is held farther away from the object viewed, it will actually magnify up to twenty times, though with considerable distortion. (4)

 

Babylonian Lenses:

Their long line of astronomical records on clay tablets stored in the British Museum, dating back to 747 B.C., indicate they observed some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.  “There is said to be distinct evidence that they observed the four satellites of Jupiter, and strong reason to believe that they were acquainted likewise with the seven satellites of Saturn,” wrote the English Orientalist George Rawlinson, in the 1860’s.  “It has generally been assumed that they were wholly ignorant of the telescope,” added this Camden professor of ancient history. “But if the satellites of Saturn are really mentioned, as it is thought that they are, upon some of the tablets, it will follow—strange as it may seem to us—that the Babylonians probably possessed optical instruments of the nature of telescopes, since it is impossible, even in the clear vapourless sky of Chaldea [ancient Babylonia], to discern the faint moons of that distant planet without lenses.”


 

 

 

The Layard (Nineveh) Lens - 721 - 705 B.C.



The Nineveh Lens: This 3,000 year old piece of rock-crystal was unearthed in 1853 from the throne room of King Sargon II's Assyrian palace of Nimrud, in Nineveh (Kuyunjik, Iraq). Layard discovered this lens (right) which is considered the first used (or found) plano-convex lens. This lens however was not "ground" and polished round but had facets which limited it's ability to magnify. It has been said that this lens could actually have been only an ornament or menagerie. The reproduction shown here shows both a horizontal and straight view.

On display at the British Museum.

 

 

Egyptian Lenses:

There are several examples of early lenses appearing fully formed about 2600-2575 B.C. At Meidum in the famous statues of Rahotep and his wife Nofret and reappear sporadically in small statuary throughout the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties. The peak of development of these lenses was reached circa 2475 B.C.E. The last Old Kingdom example being that of Mitri.  Another Fifth Dynasty statue, that of the funerary Priest Kaemked, had eye structures where the rock crystal lenses were replaced with obsidian, a dark volcanic glass. In the Sixth Dynasty, there are no known examples of these eye structures. (5)

The composition of these eyes is a lens of polished rock crystal (either alpha silica or fused silica, formerly known as cystalline quartz and fused quartz which had a convex front surface and a near hemispherical concave ground pupil surface in a flat iris plane (normally covered with resin) at the rear of the lens. The white of the eye (the sclera) was carved/ground in white limestone, cloudy or translucent quartz, or marble, some of the latter contained impurities which simulate the conjunctive capillaries of the eye

The early examples of Nofret and Rahotep have well developed pupillary structures with thick lenses and a point as part of the pupillary concave ground rear lens, as did the reserve eye E-3009. The ka statue of King Hor has a ring in that ground surface instead of a point and the lens seems not as clear. Dr. Enoch noted that Late Period lenses found by Flinders Petrie at Tanis are simply not in the same class as these much earlier examples. The grinding and polishing of these eye lenses appear to be done in pairs, perhaps from the same larger crystal,

Dr. Enoch noted that the quality of these eyes clearly indicates that these could not have been “first attempts” and must represent a development from earlier models which are lost or await discovery. (5)

 

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References:

1). http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/380186.stm
2). http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/702478.stm
3). http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Optics.htm
4). Peter James & Nick Thorpe. Ancient Inventions. 1994. Ballantine Books.
5). http://home.comcast.net/~hebsed/enoch.htm
6). http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1998SPIE.3299..424E

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