THE HISTORY OF MIRRORS December 09, 2016 05:01

Prehistoric to c 10,000 BC The very first "mirrors" were probably ponds or pools of still, dark water, then water collected in a primitive vessel. They thought what they saw in their reflection, was not themselves, but a glimpse, into another world --- of their souls.

I wonder what the very first person to catch a glimpse of themselves thought? Something like "Hey! What's that? Hmm, if I move this way it moves this way too and if I move that way…. OMG!!! (or the prehistoric equivalent) I can see my SOUL!!! Hey everybody! 

A Prehistoric Man Contemplates His Own Reflected Soul


Image Courtesy of Oscar Nilsson & English Heritage

NEOLITHIC c 10,000 to 3,000 BC - The first actual mirrors to be made by man were crafted from the dense black volcanic glass, Obsidian; it had to be laboriously ground with abrasive sand and then polished. The earliest examples were found in a Neolithic Settlement, based in caves at Çatalhöyük in southern Turkey around 6000 BC.

The occupants were incredibly urbane, even by modern-day standards --- it has been referred to as the first city.

Image Courtesy of Google Maps

Map Of Turkey Showing Catalhoyuk

Turkey Map

Map Courtesy of Google Maps

The various homes, within the complex series of caves, had smoothly-plastered walls and were scrupulously clean, with virtually no rubbish in them --- there were specially made receptacles outside for it. This reconstruction, made on-site at Çatalhöyük, could almost be an advert for a Holiday Let in a present-day glossy magazine.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

There is a mural in the Shrine of the Hunters at Catalhoyuk, showing a mighty Bull, complete with big horns, a hairy tail, an open mouth with his tongue hanging out and cloven hooves. The spotless homes, together with the sophisticated movement of the running figures, the man who has leapt onto the Bull's back, the pregnant lady underneath the animal, complete with pointy breasts, in the wall-painting all testify to a level of civilization unsuspected by many of us.

Image Courtesy of Art As Media As Media and Miss Raymonde Enderle Ludovic , who made the drawing.

See how the Running Neolithic Hunter, his Leopard-Skin Loincloth flying off in the chase, captures the feeling of running hell-for-leather, every bit as much as the piece of present-day clipart of a Businessman, with a similar sense of urgency, also charging along at full tilt. Both, in a very real sense, are "bringing home the bacon" --- putting a meal before their Families.

They are both giving it everything they've got, but the first one was created without the benefit of the History of Painting having happened yet, Egyptian, Greek & Roman murals, Celtic decorated manuscripts, Giotto. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Picasso, David Hockney, et al, yet it still encapsulates the feeling of running as though their lives (almost anyway) depend on it.

Is it  surprising, then, that these highly-developed people would want to gaze at their  reflections and contemplate their own souls.

We have made much progress over the Millenia since Catalhoyuk's heyday, gradually shrugging off beliefs that gave us the right to push for bribes to safeguard others from a hellish after-life, to treating others as chattels and slaves, to discriminating on the basis of gender, skin colour and sexuality -- we have indeed come a long. long way, yet we really do have so much in common with out distant forebears.

Something to ponder, perhaps, as you gaze into your soul in your SMS mirror.

A Person Reflected in an Obsidian Mirror from Çatalhöyük

Image Courtesy of The Antiquated Antiquarian

In some Central & South American Civilizations, such as the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas, (also known as Mesoamericans) from c 7,000 BC until the Spanish Conquest in the early 1520's,


They also had polished Obsidian mirrors, similar to the one found at Çatalhöyük and they too believed that what they saw in the mirror was not themselves, but their actual Soul.

Image Courtesy of The British Museum

This particular polished Obsidian Aztec Mirror was brought to England after the Conquest of Mexico and was obtained by a Dr John Dee during the 1590’s.

He used for ‘scrying’ ('spying' or 'peeping') –-- a way of foretelling the future by gazing at shapes, in the flames of a fire, in passing clouds, or in this case the dark reflections in an obsidian mirrors, thought to have magic powers --- and interpreting the shapes you see.

It was commonly believed that all mirrors, whether a reflection in a vessel of water, or in polished stone, were portals to another dimension, that could be glimpsed, but not entered.

Polished Obsidian Mirrors were thought of as captured water, held still Earlier mirrors had been made iron pyrites ---- but they quickly rusted, which led to many of the early finds being thought of as artist’s paint palettes amongst other things.

Mirrors and eyes were somewhat interchangeable for these early Central American peoples --‘Tezcactl’ was a Nahuatl word that was used for both mirrors and eyes. They really thought that the eyes and mirrors were how you see your Soul.

In this stone relief carving of the Aztec supreme Rain God Tlaloc at Teotihuacan his eye is made of polished Obsidian

Image Courtesy of WOW

Tlaloc, whose name means 'He Who Makes Things Sprout' was a top god, bringing Fertility and Sustenance, but he was also feared because of his inclination to bring Thunder, Lightning, Storms and Floods on occasion.

Obsidian Mirrors were so important to the Aztecs that they had their very own god, Tezcatlipoca whose name means 'Smoking Mirror'

Image Courtesy of Richard Balthazar

a reference to obsidian, from which the mirrors were made, the 'smoking' part refers to the mirrors ability to reflect the suns rays and (if made concave) to indeed focus them to produce smoke and even fire.

Note the depiction of the smoking mirror on his shield (centre left) and also his right foot (bottom right) which he is said to have lost when fighting with the Earth Monster.

And here is Homer Simpson in an earlier incarnation as Mictlantecuhtli , the Aztec god of death.

Images Courtesy of The Top Ten Cartoon Characters & John McDonald

ANCIENT EGYPTIAN c 5,500 to 30 BC - Women too, were fond of looking at themselves in mrrors, polished copper ones, as this reconstruction illustrates.

Cleopatra Assessing Her Own Beauty

Image courtesy of The Holistic Dental Institute

Image Courtesy of ancient-egypt-online

As these two modern reproductions of Ancient Egyption mirrors show, they could produce a passable, if somewhat overall coloured, reflection.

Images Courtesy of The Heart Thrills & Art Mirrors Art

This Ancient Egyptian woman (Queen Kawit) is having her hair (or wig) done whilst sipping a little cup of something, a scene not unfamiliar to anyone who has visited Toni & Guy's chain of current hairdressing salons, except the mirror would be fixed in front of you, instead of you having to hold in your hand. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose

Image courtesy of The Heart Thrills

Next, of course ---  the Make-Up. A Servant hands her Mistress a mirror and a Kohl-Stick, the black eye-outliner still beloved of Arab (and Goth) girls today. It is applied (very carefully of course) to the thin strip INSIDE the lashes, that rests against the eyeball and has a definite, sometimes rather startling, effect.

Image courtesy of Art Mirrors Art

In this image of a present day girl, as well as the stylised Eyebrows and the Eyeliner, you can clearly see that Kohl has been applied to the thin strip of flesh between the eyeball itself and the lashes.

Image courtesy of San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

Modern Painting of Cleopatra on Papyrus

Image Courtesy of Fashion Era

With a snake earring and what looks like a turkey squatting on her head.

Finally, in a pose absolutely typical of a girl concentrating on her face in the mirror, the Make-Up has to be removed before bed.

Image courtesy of Art Mirrors Art

Tut-ankh-a-mun’s Funeral Mask and Mirror Case

Images Courtesy of Global Security & Art Mirrors Art

King Tut-ankh-a-mun’s Funeral Mask is one of the most familiar and ubiquitous images of all time.

His Mirror Case, also made of wood covered with gold, is in the shape of an Ankh.

Image courtesy of Art Mirrors Art

The Ankh was the Ancient Egyptian’s Symbol of Immortality, the sublime union of Masculine and Feminine, Sexual Power, of Conception and Growth, Healthiness and Strength as well as the Sun and of our own very being.

It was also thought of as Charm to ward off all kinds of evil, rather like a depiction of St. Christopher is sometimes regarded by travelers to this day, over 3,000 years later.

Your SMS Mirror may only be a rectangle or a circle, it certainly isn’t Ankh shaped, but as you gaze at yourself in it, spare a thought for that other individual, Tut-ankh-a-mun who, no doubt also studied his appearance in his mirror and although a boy King and venerated as a god, only lived to reach the tender age of 18 years.

The Ancient Greeks c 800 BC to 146 AD - also had highly-polished bronze mirrors, like the Ancient Egyptians. This is a high-class, richly-decorated, stand-alone version, where the rich patina is now it would once have been reflective, polished bronze.

too were quite obsessed with their appearance, judging by the number of times they are depicted looking at themselves in hand mirrors.

This one seems to be saying something like "If I just tuck this little piece in here... it'll be perfect!" 

Agloanike the Astronomer c 200 bc

Although this may look as tho the servant is saying “Ready for your beads, madam?” to which her Mistress responds “Sure, but WHY is my mirror floating away?” this is in fact Aglaonike, an astute woman pioneer astronomer who lived in ancient Greece around 200 BC.

Her ability to predict Lunar Eclipses was renowned and is mentioned by Plutarch, Pluto and Apollonius, A pity that the prejudiced men of the period doubted her skills because of her gender and called her a Witch. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose


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