The World’s oldest known Artificial Eye

 

According to a report by Maryam Tabeshian of the Cultural Heritage News Agency of Iran (December 10, 2006), researchers have excavated a 4,800-year-old artificial eye along with a skeleton and other findings from the Burnt City (located near the city of Zahedan in Iran’s Seistan-Baluchistan province in the southeast of iran).

Skeleton of a young woman from the Burnt City. Note artificial eye in the eye socket of the skull.

The site has yielded numerous interesting finds including an ancient measuring ruler, backgammon game pieces and an animation device.  Researchers have ascertained that the artifical eye belonged to a woman aged 25-30 who hailed from a higher echolon of the local society at the Burnt City. 

Interestingly, the woman’s gravesite also yielded vessels of clay, a leather bag, a mirror of bronze and various other ornaments. Professor Michael Harris, a specialist in the field of optometry at the University of California at Berkeley, has stated that:

It’s unlikely such attention and effort would have been paid to a commoner…She may have been a member of a royal family or an otherwise wealthy individual.”

Prosthetics were of course known in the ancient era with references made to an artificial eye of gold in Hebrew texts (Yer. Ned. 41c; comp. Yer. Sanh. 13c). The prosthetic found in Iran however is different in that it is evidence of the oldest attempt at making this as “realistic” as possible. Professor Mansur Sayyed-Sajadi, who supervised the excavation, has stated: 

At first glance, it seems natural tar mixed with animal fat has been used in making [the eye]…whoever made the eye likely used a fine golden wire, thinner than half a millimeter, to draw even the most delicate eye capillaries…”

A curious feature of the “eye” are parallel lines that have been drawn around the pupil to form a diamond shape.

Two holes at the sides of the “eye” helped hold it in iplace.  The eye socket of the woman however appears to have developed an abscess as a result fo constant contact with the prosthetic.

Further tests are being conducted in iran to determine the exact chemical composition of the prosthetic.