Ancient Civilization of Baghdad: Optical Glass Lens from 2000 Years Ago

Wei Yu

PureInsight | September 1, 2003

[] The previously documented relics retrieved from the ruins of a Parthian city located in a suburb of the modern city of Baghdad include an ancient battery dated to 250-224 BC [1]. This discovery was described in a book published by, Unraveling the Mask of Prehistoric Civilization - The Unknown Ages. But the city holds surprises greater than this – a more striking finding was reported recently.

At the same place where the ancient battery was found, a polished optical lens was unearthed. It is about the width of two fingers in diameter and it is highly transparent. Tests identify it as a polished lens. Due to the passage of time, parts associated with this lens were lost. Only the lens itself, slightly cracked, remains. This earliest lens known to date is now in the British Museum. [2]

In textbooks, we are told that the earliest optical lens polishing techniques appeared in 16th century Europe. However, this polished lens is an ancient relic 2200 years old.

The ancient people of Baghdad who made this lens had knowledge of glass shaping and polishing like that of today's artists and scientists. They were able to melt glass materials, obtain desired shapes after processing, and polish the finished products to a high level of transparency. If they did not know how to burnish and polish glass, how could they have made such a lens? The writer Erich Von Daniken said, "I believe there was an unknown highly civilized society here in ancient times."

Figure 1. Ancient Battery from 2000 years ago (Photo courtesy: Baghdad Museum)

Figure 2. Ancient optical lens from 2000 years ago (Photo courtesy: British Museum)

Figure 3. Glass optical lens: It is well made, though with some cracks (Photo courtesy: British Museum)

Figure 4. A staff member of the museum holds the lens in his hand. The middle finger on the other side of the lens can be clearly seen from this side, indicating the transparency is high. (Photo courtesy: British Museum)

1. William R. Corliss, Ancient Man: A Handbook of Puzzling Artifacts, Sourcebook Project Pub, September 1977.
2. Erich Von Daniken, Chariots of the Gods, Berkley Pub Group, August 1987.

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