Saturday, May 23, 2020

The First Mirrors

The earliest manufactured mirrors were pieces of polished stone such as obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass. Examples of obsidian mirrors found in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) have been dated to around 6000 BCE. Mirrors of polished copper were crafted in Mesopotamia beginning around 4000 BCE, and in ancient Egypt from around 3000 BCE. Polished stone mirrors from Central and South America date from around 2000 BCE onwards. Some of the earliest examples of Bronze Age copper mirrors were produced by the Qijia culture (2200 BCE-1600 BCE)  distributed around the upper Yellow River region of Gansu (centered in Lanzhou) and eastern Qinghai, China.

Glass began to be used for mirrors in the 1st century CE, with the development of soda-lime glass and glass blowing. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder claims that artisans in Sidon (modern-day Lebanon) were producing glass mirrors coated with lead or gold leaf in the back. The metal provided good reflectivity, and the glass provided a smooth surface and protected the metal from scrathes and tarnishing. However, no archeological evidence of glass mirrors dating  before the third century CE have been found.

Socrates urged young people to look at themselves in mirrors so that, if they were beautiful, they would become worthy of their beauty, and if they were ugly, they would know how to hide their disgrace through learning.

Image: Greek bronze box mirror with relief of a woman wearing a silver earring from the last quarter of the 4th century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
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