The mystery of the crystal lens Nimrud

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On the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Mosul, 44 km North of Baghdad, lie the ruins of Nineveh, the last capital of the Assyrian Empire. The ruins of this great city of antiquity was opened in the fall of 1849, the famous English archaeologist Henry Laiagam (1817-1894).

Excavations of Nineveh lasted for many years. The most significant finding of archaeologists has now become the world famous library of king Ashurbanipal. Another famous discovery in the ruins of Nineveh was the archive of the kings of Assyria.

The Nimrud lens (the same lens from Nineveh)

Загадка хрустальной линзы Нимруда

It is difficult to say to what extent linked with these huge repositories of monuments of ancient literature little — half inch in diameter round disc of polished rock crystal. It was found during excavations of the Royal Palace in Nineveh, in layers dated to approximately 600 BC, and identified already the first researchers as a biconvex lens, which may have been used as magnifying glasses to read the cuneiform texts.

The announcement was made in 1853, the famous Scottish physicist David Brewster (1781-1868), who devoted many years of his life to the study of optical phenomena and the design of optical devices. According to Brewster, the lens could also be used to concentrate the rays of the Sun.

Since around the mysterious findings, the debate continues. The version that this lens, still not adopted part of the scientific community. There are alternative hypotheses — for example, this crystal disc could be part of jewelry or ritual object.

Загадка хрустальной линзы Нимруда

Processing quality crystal leaves much to be desired, and the effectiveness of this lens as a magnifying glass are quite limited. And yet she could be used as a magnifier, for example, for the master, izgotovlenie print with an intricate pattern and tiny cuneiform signs on them, or for weak human eyes trying to read the texts on clay tablets stored in the Royal library.

It is obvious that in the Ancient world there were no optical devices, however, lenses of rock crystal or other transparent minerals could theoretically exist. Roman authors Pliny and Seneca refer in their writings about the lens, some used by a master engraver in Pompeii.

Seneca himself, who, according to his confession, «I read all the books in Rome», had vision problems and read through a glass ball filled with water, which served him as a magnifier. The Emperor Nero, it is said, watched the gladiators fight, bringing to the eyes of polished emerald. Not the fact, however, that this emerald had served him as points; perhaps he was just protecting the eyes of the Emperor from the sun.

It is known about the discovery of lenses of rock crystal, Dating from the V century BC, in the sacred cave on mount IDA in Crete. This lens is much better quality than that found in the ruins of Nineveh, and much stronger. Thus, the knowledge of the ancients about lenses, it seems, exceed our understanding of this area of ancient science. But does it follow that the ancient peoples used is more complex than lenses, optical devices?

Загадка хрустальной линзы Нимруда

It is known that the Assyrians were well developed mathematics and astronomy. They, in particular, know anything about the rings of Saturn — Assyrian scientists described this planet as a deity, surrounded by a ring of snakes. But Saturn’s rings are not visible to the naked eye. Maybe the Assyrians were able to construct a telescope?

This hypothesis, based on the finding of the lens of Nineveh, was expressed by Professor of the University of Rome Giovanni Pettinato. However, experts assyriologie this assumption of support is not met. Between the lens and the telescope is a huge gap, they say, and in order to overcome it, must make a technological leap.

In any Assyrian text does not mention telescopes or similar devices, no images, not found their remains. As for the «serpent ring» around Saturn, it is rather the mythological image — the Assyrians imagined snakes everywhere.

And not solved the main question is: what lens is it? By and large, no one can say for sure. Interpretation of crystal with oval biconvex cross section as optical lenses do not necessarily correspond to its real original functions.

Today mysterious crystal disk is stored in one of the halls of the British Museum. It might actually be a lens, and then she is the oldest optical lens in the world. But maybe it’s just some amulet that does not preclude its use as a magnifying glass. In any case, optical science, it seems, is much older than previously thought.

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