On Sunday I presented a paper on the molding of the stem of the
Ardagh Chalice at the Irish Medievalists Conference in Limerick. An
interesting spin-off of that topic was the question, “how did these
ancient craftsmen see what they were doing on such a small scale?”
The interlaced design on the piece I was describing is a cylinder 14
mm high and 37 mm in diameter. It is decorated with a design that is
laid out in a grid of 5 x 54 cells that measure approximately 2.2 mm
each. I carved my test pieces under a microscope. At 52 years old my
eyes need all the help they can get. I really don’t think I could
ever have carved at this scale with any degree of precision unaided
by lenses, even when I did not wear glasses…
Some see the very fact that such fine work was created at all as
proof that there must have been some kind of magnification available.
Others say that some craftsman are just gifted with superior eyesight
and can do this kind of work with the naked eye. The latter seems
much more likely to me. Of the many craftsmen on Orchid and the many
thousands more that we collectively know there must be many examples
of superior eyesight of craftsmen in our own time that should quickly
put the question of what is humanly possible.
Taking this just a bit farther, how does age affect close up vision
for those gifted in this way?