Wouldn’t your ancestors be amazed at today’s technological advances in helping people to see well? Throughout history, mankind has sought a number of remedies for common vision problems that vary greatly from the glasses and contact lenses we know today. No wonder: without the sense of sight, our ability to interpret our surroundings and assimilate basic sensory information is made difficult. Long before companies like Acuvue and Purevision were researching groundbreaking vision developments for contact-wearers, our ancient ancestors tried some crude and even exotic ways to improve their ability to see.
1. 2900 B.C.E. – Golden Artificial Eye
In 2010, scientists discovered and began studying an artificial eye that belonged to a woman in the southeastern part of Iran. The artificial eye represented an interesting point in the history of glasses, having been created from clay but coated with a thin layer of gold. Experts date the ocular prosthesis at around the year of 2900 B.C. Scientists believe that this person must have been perhaps a priestess or someone from upper society. The woman is presumed by scientists to be aged 25-30. Her remains were located at the Burnt City of Iran. The ancient artisan who created the eye prosthesis used gold wire to recreate eye capillaries to make the eye appear to be more realistic.
2. 1000 A.D. – Reading Stones
Reading stones are one of the first-known vision correction tools in history, used as early as 1000 A.D. A reading stone was really just a glass sphere that could be used to magnify text on written scripts.
In the case of Royal Emperor Nero, it is common knowledge that his royal highness used a large emerald stone to watch the gladiator games from atop his perch in his royal box seats. It is rumored that the large emerald Nero used was cut hollow to create more of a lens to assist with his short-sighted vision.
3. 1511-1514 – The Horned Helmet
King Henry VIII held many titles throughout history. He was considered the best jouster in all of England. He played tennis, was an outstanding sportsman and archer, and was known to be extremely nearsighted. In the years between 1511-1514, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian had a ceremonial armor suit made as a gift for the English king. The suit itself has been lost, but the intricate helmet that features brass glasses survived. The helmet, known as The Horned Helmet was created by Austrian goldsmith Konrad Deisenhofer. The helmet features hinges on the left and right side that possibly were created to hold other face devices. A hefty, if not cumbersome device, the metal headgear makes us pretty grateful for having the option of sleek and discreet contact lenses.
4. 1600s – The First Crude Eyeglasses
The first eye glasses in history were secured to faces in the late 1600s by attaching silk ribbons to metal rims and then placing the ribbons over the human ear with with weights attached to hold the spectacle in place.
Pictured on the right, is a photo of Chinese eyewear estimated to be from 1430 A.D. The custom in this era was to darken the lenses to hide the eyes of the individual wearer. This technique was thought to be advantageous to conceal eye expressions during court proceedings. Notice the ornate glass case. This pair of spectacles is thought to belong to someone of great importance. We wonder if they followed similar steps to keep their elegant and elaborate carrier in top condition as we do to keep our contact lens cases clean.
5. 1770s – Lorgnettes
If you were to look at a timeline of wearble trends throughout the ages, it would be clear that jewelry of some kind has consistently been in fashion. In the era of the 1770s, a lorgnette, basically a pair of eye glasses with a handle, came into vogue. Before glasses became a device that was made to wear on the face, lorgnettes were created to be both functional and fashionable. Notice how the photos above depict lorgnettes that were intricate, interesting and beautiful pieces of jewelry. The center photo depicts a double lorgnette made for far away and close-up viewing. A lorgnette is derived from the Middle French word lorgnette, which means “squinting.” Lorgnettes became popular in high society as opera glasses.
The Future – Smart Glasses
After viewing five ancient eyewear option, you can’t help but wonder what does the future hold for vision devices? Maybe the strangest vision correction tool of all time will soon be in our future. Smart glasses for the blind are ready to debut in 2016. While they look like a giant viewfinder, the smart glasses actually contain a video camera with an infrared beam. The microcomputer that runs the smart glasses projects line drawing images to the inside of the glass lens. These spatial images can be processed through the human brain. Blind people can actually see the outlines of objects and can avoid walking into common furniture, walls or other objects in their path. The technology is still being improved but should be ready for the public in just two years.