Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Eyesight health and ancient craftsmanship


#1

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?

Stephen Walker


#2
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?" 

One theory holds that these early craftsmen commonly were myopic:
for them the image is enlarged. Most children can focus just beyond
the tip of the nose. Imagine how much better and closer a child myope
would see.

Me? I have a different contact lens and a different closeup lens for
each eye. Maybe I could’ve done closeup work with my unaided eyes
when I was a kid sporting -4.00 myopia in both eyes.

But I’d imagine that -10 to -15 myopia would’ve helped you on the
road to becoming a craftsman in those days

Brian
B r i a n A d a m
e y e g l a s s e s j e w e l l e r y
www.adam.co.nz


#3

There are eye exercises that can keep tired and overused eyes young
without the need of glasses. I have been using them for years. Email
me
off line and I will tell you what kind of exercise that I use.

Veva Bailey


#4

I used to wear glasses for distance as in driving. A few years ago I
had my vision checked and found that I could pass the vision test
for driving without glasses.

It goes counter to everything I’ve heard about aging and vision, but
my vision has improved as I’ve aged.

I no longer wear glasses at all.
KPK


#5

Hi Stephen:

Interesting question. I’m nearsighted. Not catastrophically, but
pretty seriously. (20/150 or thereabouts) On the plus side, both
eyes are about equally screwed up.

I’ve found that prior to getting a microscope, I definitely
preferred to engrave with my contacts off. In speaking to my
optometrist, he said my particular error rate was roughly equivalent
to having a 2x loupe built into my face.

As I’ve hit the upper reaches of 30, I’ve noticed that I’m having
more trouble focusing in close, which makes me more dependent on an
optivisor, at least with my contacts in, but with them out, I can
still focus in very, very close. I suspect that a nearsighted
jeweler would have had far fewer problems doing that sort of chip
carving than you’d expect. Having done some silver chip carving once
upon a time, I suspect he may have been feeling some of the finer
details, rather than depending entirely on his eyes.

You have seen the old (15th century) engravers globes with the glass
ball of water and the candles, right? (for focusing light on the
work.) There may well have been something similar in use. Being both
fragile and mostly organic, that sort of thing is unlikely to have
survived. A serious thing to think about is not only how they saw
what they were doing, but how they illuminated the work.

Out of habit, I do delicate work with my contacts off, even using
the microscope these days. I’ve found that while I do get a
magnification boost from going bare-eyed, there doesn’t seem to be a
similar boost when looking through the microscope bare-eyed. Focused
is focused, at whatever mag rate is set.

Hope that helps. N=1
Regards,
Brian Meek.


#6

This is interesting! I’ve had bifocals for over 10 years now, but I
take them off for close up work. That I see better unaided, or with
an optivisor. I do so much driving (over 30,000 miles per year on
average) that I have my bifocals set so the “close” part focuses on
the car instrument panel. The opticians look at me oddly, but it
works for me!

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio
http://www.bethwicker.com


http://bethwicker.ganoksin.com/blogs/


#7
I do so much driving (over 30,000 miles per year on average) that
I have my bifocals set so the "close" part focuses on the car
instrument panel. The opticians look at me oddly, but it works for
me! 

I, on the other hand, wear progressive lenses, and have the “close"
set for about 9” from my nose. Ditto for the odd look… But it
allows me to see very close work-- and it means it is longer before I
have to have anew prescription.

Noel


#8

I’m betting that in medieval Ireland that most goldsmiths didn’t
live to be 52. Kids started work early and most folks died young. Too
young to have their eyes go out on them. I didn’t start to use an
optivisor until I was in my late 30’s. In medieval times that would
have made me an old toothless granny.

Jo Haemer
www.timothywgreen.com


#9
But I'd imagine that -10 to -15 myopia would've helped you on the
road to becoming a craftsman in those days 

As someone with -10 eyesight I have to disagree. I have no focal
length. There is no point where I can put something and focus on it.
If I really try I end up with a blinding headache. I also regularly
trip over my 100lb dog laying on the floor because I can’t see him
because they are the same color. If my vision was uncorrected I
would be considered legally blind.

Salli


#10
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. 

A lot of profession require special physical attributes. Musicians
hear sounds that regular people do not. Artists see nuances of
colour that other people cannot perceive. Jewelers of the past could
colour grade gemstones simply by eyeballing them, better than most of
the modern day gemologists with specialized equipments. We should not
be surprised that superior eyesight was a prerequisite of becoming a
jeweler.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#11
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. 

Stephen, I take that as a very interesting and insightful question.
Maybe the answers about myopia are on the mark, I don’t know.

I will say that we went to the King Tut show Tuesday evening -
surely not as grand as the show 20+ years ago, which I didn’t see,
but certainly worthwhile. Hopefully this link will work:
http://www.kingtut.org/about_the_exhibition/exhibition_preview

It is a preview of a few pieces. Click on room #10 and look at the
dagger that is available. It was the dagger in Tut’s belt, inside
his coffin. The whole piece is worked as finely as anything, but what
looks like granulation on the handle is as fine an example as you’ll
ever see - 1/2mm balls arranged in the patterns granulation is
usually done in. Not AS tiny as your example, but plenty tiny. It’s
not just the vision, it’s also the manipulation in general…

Anyway, that’s 1300 BC or earlier and no, they didn’t have lenses or
optics of any kind - this we do know. My own answer/guess would be
that humans are more resourceful than people give them credit for.
They got the best eyes and did the best work that they could with
their technology. Very often people see fine work and think it’s
impossible or miraculous, which really means THEY can’t do it. They
built the pyramids with wooden levers and rollers and an
understanding of gravity - well, more but not much more…

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#12
It goes counter to everything Ive heard about aging and vision,
but my vision has improved as Ive aged. 

If you used to be slightly nearsighted, then this is the expected
effect. Most people become slightly more farsighted (or less
nearsighted) as they get older. Its not usually a large change, but
for some it may be enough to make the difference. For many, the
biggest difference is in a reduction in your ability to focus
closely. So your distance vision gets slightly better, but your
close focus ability goes down by a good deal more. (Thus the market
for dowdy looking old folks style reading glasses…) Im quite
nearsighted. For years, my prescription was in the neighborhood of
-5.25 diopters. Now, at age 57, at least one eye is down to -4.75
diopters. The other is at -5 even. Still need glasses, of course.
Just cant still use the old lenses any more. And some day, Im told I
might need cataract surgery. But Im a long way from there still…
And for that matter, after 41 years of insulin dependent diabetes,
and several bouts of retinopathy along with the treatment, a whole
lot of laser burns into my peripheral vision (looks much more
dramatic in a photo of my retinas, than it appears to me, looking out
at the world), In the end Im mostly just grateful to still have good
and useful vision at all… In my youth, I was 20/15. Better than
normal. Now one eye is 20/20, the other 20/25. Good enough. Cant
complain too much. But I am glad for that microscope more now, than
I would have been 30 years ago if Id had one then.

Peter


#13
Taking this just a bit farther, how does age affect close up
vision for those gifted in this way? 

Stephen, as a life-long myope, I can say that, after menopause I had
to go to tri-focals (which are fine, if you dont try to use them in
these little narrow eye-glass frames). I used to be able to focus on
tiny things only a couple of centimeters away. Now I cant, but I
still can read tiny print, with or without my glasses, better than
my far-sighted husband. Ive had cataracts removed from both eyes,
which was a great blessing, although they had primarily affected my
distance vision (and color perception – if you find yourself
/remembering/ what color some things are, rather than actually
/seeing/ that color, check it out!). I do need more light now than I
used to.

Judy Bjorkman


#14

as someone with “high myopia” I can tell you that this is one of the
most unlikely things I have heard in a long time. I dont see any
better close up without my glasses on than anyone else does, and my
functional range of vision without my glasses is about five inches,
which is not conducive to being able to work, at anything, well. The
raneg in which I can actually see without artifical aids is
incredible limited - bring something close enough to my eyes to see
and its very nearly too close to me to be able to focus on.

Something I am grateful for on a daily basis is the technology that
enable me to be a functional member of society and to do the work I
love - I would never have been able to do this without my glasses.


#15
It goes counter to everything Ive heard about aging and vision,
but my vision has improved as Ive aged. 

Or did you just become nearsighted with age, as most people do? And
having been so farsighted, youre now 20/20. But it could get worse,
and then need glasses again.

(Just like many people get laser eye surgery in their 20s or 30s,
only to need glasses again in their 40s, though they may be thinner
glasses.)

Elaine
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com


#16

A few months ago I read The Cystal Sun by Robert Temple, a
fascinating book about ancient optics among ather things. From
memory the oldest magnifier he found was several thousand years BC.
He said he stopped counting lenses in museums at 400. There was one
with a worn edge that had been scraped along metal, his theory was
that it was used for engraving.

If you decide that there were no lenses in the past anything that
could act as a lens must then have been something else. Not really
science. To contradict accepted theory puts a lot of egg on
respected faces. Read the book, Im sure some of it is incorrect but
it is a fascinating read, particularly the chapter about Archimedes
setting ships at sea on fire with lots of mirrors focussing sunlight
on them. Temple did practical experiments to see if theories worked,
always a worthwhile tactic,

sorry to rant on, regards Tim Blades.


#17

Years ago when I was at the U of O metals program, my old professor
Max Nixon was showing slides of ancient jewelry work that was
gorgeous. One of the students asked, “Wow, how did they do such
great work with no magnification and such crude tools?” Max replied
in his wonderful squeaky voice, “Well, they HAD to be good. In those
days there was only one guy to work for and that was the King or
Chieftain. If you screwed up and did bad work, well then you got
your head chopped off.”

Since presbyopia or aged eyes,(the loss of near vision) happens
after a “certain age”, Im still holding to my theory that most
goldsmiths died before age 40 when most of us start holding the
newspaper at arms length.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer
www.timothywgreen.com


#18

This could be way out in left field, but it is worth considering as
to how some of the intricate work was done without optical
assistance.

Drill a clean (no burrs).75 mm hole in a thin sheet of metal 2" x
2"… about 30 ga. thick. With adequate light and holding this device
close to your eye (flush with cheek bone and eye brow), focusing is
possible at a close distance on very small objects.

It is not as good as a loupe, viewing field is small and it does
require bright light, but you can focus. Try several different hole
sizes (1 mm, 1.25 mm, 1.5 mm…2 mm) in different pieces of metal to
see which works best. A coke can is a good source of thin metal. It
is a little difficult though to get a clean hole because it is very
soft.

By the way, if you forget your reading glasses while away from home
and you absolutely have to read some small type on a label or
something, create a pin hole to use by doubling up your index finger
and type will become legible. Of course youll look a little funny
holding the object to be read and your hand so close to your face,
but it will work and you wont have to beg some stranger to loan you
their reading glasses. wink!

All the best,
j

J Collier
Metalsmith
http://jlcollier.com


#19

Living near Rome, Italy, I have had occasion to visit museums with
Etruscan artifacts and have marveled at the double loop-in-loop and
quadruple loop-in-loop chains with a diameter of 2 mm or less.

One must first consider that they did not have draw plates and
hammered the wire to the correct thickness. Second the tiny links
were not soldered closed but fused. And then the links were shaped
on, evidently, strong but miniature mandrels.

The Italian historians say that miopia was a requisite for being an
Estruscan goldsmith.


#20

This could be way out in left field, but it is worth considering as
to how some of the intricate work was done without optical
assistance.

Drill a clean (no burrs).75 mm hole in a thin sheet of metal 2" x
2"… about 30 ga. thick. With adequate light and holding this device
close to your eye (flush with cheek bone and eye brow), focusing is
possible at a close distance on very small objects.

It is not as good as a loupe, viewing field is small and it does
require bright light, but you can focus. Try several different hole
sizes (1 mm, 1.25 mm, 1.5 mm…2 mm) in different pieces of metal to
see which works best. A coke can is a good source of thin metal. It
is a little difficult though to get a clean hole because it is very
soft.

By the way, if you forget your reading glasses while away from home
and you absolutely have to read some small type on a label or
something, create a pin hole to use by doubling up your index finger
and type will become legible. Of course youll look a little funny
holding the object to be read and your hand so close to your face,
but it will work and you wont have to beg some stranger to loan you
their reading glasses. wink!

All the best,
j

J Collier
Metalsmith
http://jlcollier.com