The claim: The world’s oldest prosthetic eye was found in a nearly 5,000-year-old skeleton
Anyone familiar with stories involving ancient curses probably knows disturbing the dead – whether an entombed mummy or an abandoned burial ground – never ends well for the living.
Such curses are firmly fictitious, but that hasn’t stopped social media users from linking the discovery of a skeleton with a golden eye to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tweet contains an image of a skeleton, partially unearthed, with a dark ball sitting in an eye socket.
“This 5,000-year-old prosthetic eye found near Zabol in Iran is the oldest in history,” the tweet reads. “It was made from tar and animal fat and painted gold. The wearer was a 6′ tall priestess.”
While neither posts say when the skeleton was uncovered, social media users took the news as a recent discovery.
“This is not the year for this crazy… Leave it alone and back away slowly,” commented one Facebook user.
“I’m hearing that they removed the eye in 2019… that explains a lot,” said one Twitter user, suggesting a connection with the current coronavirus pandemic.
Tempting as it is to blame a global pandemic on an ancient curse, the theory has one significant hole: The skeleton was discovered 15 years ago.
USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook and Twitter users for comment.
Skeleton discovered in Iran in 2006
The image shown in the tweet can be traced to a discovery made by a group of Iranian archaeologists excavating the Burnt City, a millennia-old human settlement outside Zabol, Iran.
The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, (CAIS), announced the finding in December 2006.
Initial assessment of the ancient skeleton suggested it belonged to a young woman, 25 to 30 years old, around 4,800 years ago. She was around six feet in height, which the ancient studies group said in 2010 was “much taller than ordinary women of her time.”
As the post correctly claims, the artificial eye, found in the skull’s left socket, is believed to be made of natural tar and animal fat.
Experts posit whoever designed the eye must have had a good grasp of ocular anatomy – a normal eye’s tiniest blood vessels were recreated using golden wires measuring less than half a millimeter in diameter. It was also covered in a thin layer of gold and engraved with a central circle to represent the iris, according to the ancient studies group.
Two holes bored on either side likely fixed the fake eye in place whenever the woman wore it, which may have been often, as the archaeologists noted some eyelid tissue on its surface.
It’s unclear why the woman needed the fake eye, but it is considered the first ocular prosthetic in medical history, predating artificial eyes crafted in 2,000 B.C. in Egypt, according to the archaeologists’ preliminary report.
However, USA TODAY wasn’t able to confirm one element of this post – that the woman was a priestess. Many online writeups have attached this detail, but we weren’t able to find any report offering evidence of that description. Wired reported in 2006 the woman may have been wealthy or connected to royalty given the clay vessels, ornamental beads, leather sack and bronze mirror found in the grave with her.
Our rating: True
Based on our research, we rate TRUE the claim that the world’s oldest prosthetic eye was found in a 5,000-year-old skeleton. The eye was found in Zabol, Iran, in a skeleton dating back almost 5,000 years, according to archaeologists. It was discovered in December 2006.
Our fact-check sources:
- @mrstrangefact, July 13, Twitter thread
- @effdotcom, Aug. 5, Twitter thread
- @purplepanda1310, Aug. 5, Twitter thread
- UNESCO World Heritage Convention, accessed Aug. 12, Shahr-i Sokhta
- Wired, Dec. 20, 2006, The 4,800 Year Old Artificial Eye
- The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, Dec. 10, 2006, 4800-Year-Old Artificial Eyeball Discovered in Burnt City
- The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, Nov. 20, 2010, 5000-Year-Old Face of the Lady of Burnt City Reconstructed
- Iranian Journal of Public Health, Aug. 15, 2014, Artificial Eye in Burnt City and Theoretical Understanding of How Vision Works
- Cultural Heritage News Agency via WayBack Machine, Dec. 10, 2006, 3rd Millennium BC Artificial Eyeball Discovered in Burnt City
- Academia.edu, accessed Aug. 12, An artificial eye, Shahr-I Sokhta
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