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The 5000 year old artificial eye

Welcome to the inaugural post of the Prosthetics at Graphica Medica Blog!

In this space we will provide our readers with information about what we do, links to news and technology articles that relate to the fields of anaplastology and ocularistry, and occasionally something funny to put a smile on your face, plus whatever else takes our fancy.

For the first post on our new blog it felt appropriate to go back nearly 5000 years to the first known example of an ocular prosthesis.

The 5000 year old artificial eye

Discovered in 2006, at an archeological dig in Iran near the city of Zabol, an artificial eye was found in the skull of a young woman. Made of tar and animal fats, this hemispherical shape was originally painted white, with details picked out in gold thread. It was held in place by a thread attached to holes at the edges that presumably went around her head like an eye patch.

Although it wasn’t indwelling (i.e. retained behind the eyelids), and tar is definitely not on the current list of approved materials, its shape and the use of white paint and threads in the surface detail will be familiar to anyone who has ever made or worn an ocular prosthesis. This ocular wasn’t attached after death as a funerary ritual, rather, it was worn for a considerable period during the woman's life. This was evidenced by an abscess on her left orbital ridge caused by pressure from the ocular and abrasions caused by long-term pressure from the thread used to retain the eye. It is not a surprise to learn that wearing a prosthesis has always had the potential for discomfort, but we have, at least, developed a few more options to relieve it when it occurs now.

The woman’s height was estimated at almost 6 feet, which was tall for the time. The other objects found in her grave show that she was probably wealthy or considered an important person in her community. Some articles refer to her as a priestess, and the idea of uncovering the grave of a tall priestess with a gold artificial eye has inspired a funny meme (see below).

People with facial differences often experience unwanted attention or varying degrees of ostracism as they move through the world. However, it is heartening to discover that 5000 years ago an important and successful figure was able to wear a visually striking artificial eye that helped her to thrive and stand out from the crowd.

Although we modern ocularists strive to help our patients blend in with, rather than stand out from, the crowd, the oculars we make are still beautiful and unique works of personalized art that very few people get to own. We hope our work helps those we work with thrive too.

To see some images of the ancient artificial eye click the link to the article below.


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