"STREPSIADES: Have you ever seen a beautiful, transparent stone at the druggists', with which you may kindle fire?
SOCRATES: You mean a crystal lens.
STREPSIADES: That's right. Well, now if I placed myself with this stone in the sun and a long way off from the clerk, while he was writing out the conviction, I could make all the wax, upon which the words were written, melt." -- Aristophanes, playwright, The Clouds, 419 B.C.
"I have discovered [sic] an avalanche of evidence proving the existence of a very remarkable ancient technology, one which is well and truly forbidden because it indicates that our ancestors were not idiots, and as we all know very well, if we ever admitted that, the illusion of progress would be seriously imperiled. The technology I have discovered [sic] is optical." -- Robert G. K. Temple, author, Forbidden Technology, 2009
"I call it consensus blindness. People agree not to see what they are convinced cannot exist. 'Everyone knows' that there was no optical technology in antiquity, so consequently when you come across it, staring you in the face, you go blind. End of conflict." -- Robert G. K. Temple, author, Forbidden Technology, 2009
This is a follow up post to my earlier post on Democritus and the Ancient Telescopes of Babylon.
Science Show (2000): "Ancient Egyptian Telescopes".
Robert Temple: It started as I was having lunch one day with the science fiction writer, Arthur C Clarke. I told Arthur that I'd seen a very strange life-sized crystal skull, and he liked it so much he later made a film about it. And then in fact he used that as his logo for all his many TV films about mysterious things. And his friend said he knew a strange crystal object too. It wasn't a skull, but it was apparently an ancient lens, and I thought that was kind of strange because I didn't think there were ancient lenses. He said it was in the British Museum and he hadn't seen it, but he knew it was there, and he hoped to study it one day.Also see my post on Democritus and the ancient telescopes of Babylon.
Well he died unfortunately, so I thought I'd better step into the breach and I studied it. And now it's resulted in this gigantic book.
Robyn Williams: The gigantic book is called The Crystal Sun, published here in June. Robert Temple became convinced that there must have been a telescope, and that the ancients knew how to use it. He's with Wendy Barnaby in London.
Robert Temple: Well we now know that it was used in this way because I found over 450 ancient lenses by the time I was through, and I'm still not through. These lenses were used for magnification and we know that that was going on at least by 3300BC. That's a long time ago. And they were used for starting fires by focusing the rays of the sun. They were also used for medical purposes. That is focusing the rays of the sun to cauterise wounds, and they were used for telescopes, rudimentary telescopes. Not only used for studying the moon and the stars, but for surveying. Optical surveying makes it possible to achieve great accuracy. And I think it's now pretty clear that this was the means by which the alignments of the pyramids Giza were achieved - by optical surveying techniques using these telescopes - the lenses of which I've found.
Wendy Barnaby: You've found lenses in statues, Egyptian statues. They have lenses for eyes. What sort of effect does that give?
Robert Temple: The forth and fifth dynasty statues of old kingdom Egypt which date from about 2500BC are really incredible. They're some of the finest cut and ground and polished crystal convex lenses you could ever find. The statues were made by painting a black dot at the back behind the eye, which served as the pupil. And the crystal lens then magnifies this in a way that slightly changes as you move around, so that the statue appears to be alive as it looks at you through its crystal eyes. Most alarming. There are many of these statues to be seen on display in the Cairo Museum in Egypt, and there's one very fine one in the Louvre in Paris. But I don't think any exist in Australia.
Wendy Barnaby: And nobody here actually looked at these statues and thought, ooh I wonder why that effect is with the eyes?
Robert Temple: It's amazing how people can look at things and not think anything at all. It seems to be quite common.
Wendy Barnaby: That's a very polite way of putting what you've been saying about archaeologists and people who haven't recognised what you've been finding.
Robert Temple: Well I hate to be rude about archaeologists because I have friends who are archaeologists and a lot of them are very fine folk, but they do tend to be a little bit narrow. They want to be left alone. They want to be allowed to dig - a bit like dogs who have favourite bones they're going after. And they want, if they're Egyptologists to be allowed to read their tests in peace please - no phone calls, no callers. And really they don't want to have to put larger pictures together, and they certainly don't want to have to learn anything new like astronomy or mathematics or optics. They really want to be left alone please.
Wendy Barnaby: So they think that there were no lenses really till AD?
Robert Temple: Well the conventional way of looking at this is to say that spectacles appeared in the 13th century, and the telescope appeared in the 17th century. If you were to go up to an archeologist and say did they have magnifying glasses in ancient times, or telescopes god forbid, he would probably feel inclined to faint or to scream or to look supercilious or something. But he would certainly say no. And the fact that I found over 450 ancient lenses is slightly embarrassing to this point of view, because it's kind of hard to ignore - 450 lenses - although it was successfully done until now.
Wendy Barnaby: And these lenses are just lying around in museums, are they?
Robert Temple: Yes, yes a lot of them are on public display, anybody can see them. And on the cover of my book Crystal Sun, there is a photo I took of a fragment of a Greek pot from the 5th century BC, which was excavated near the Acropolis in Athens; showing a Greek looking through a telescope. Well now this has been on public display for about 20 years in the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Millions of people have filed past it. Nobody has paid the slightest attention to it, and yet it's obviously a Greek looking through a telescope. What else can it be?
Wendy Barnaby: You've found light used in extraordinary ways in Egyptian temples, light offerings. Can you tell me about that?
Robert Temple: Yes I did. As a matter of fact when I was at Karnak in upper Egypt, my wife Olivia who's far more observant than I am because she's a painter, among her many other fine attributes, she spotted this because we were in the Shrine of Ramses III which has a roof on it. So it's an interior space which is a very fine thing indeed. And we noticed that the Pharoah was standing there making offering to the God Amon, holding an empty tray. And that on to this empty tray for only three minutes a day was projected a light offering, and I took a photograph of this and it's in the book.
The light offering showed the feather of Maat, as it's called in ancient Egyptian. And for those who don't know ancient Egyptian I'd better hasten to translate that it means cosmic order or truth or justice. And the feather of cosmic order which is what the Pharoah was meant to uphold in his job is being offered on this tray to the god. I thought that was pretty clever. And then we began to realise that the Egyptians must have been up to these tricks a lot, and we found about half a dozen examples of this kind of thing. We found the face of the god Horus illuminated once a year for 2 minutes at the winter solstice. Then there's a shaft of light that comes streaking into the chapel of Ptah at Karnak which for only 1 minute a day illuminates a carved eye
But the most important findings which I made is something so big that I don't know how anybody failed to notice it for 3500 years, which is the minimum period of time it's been there; is the winter solstice shadow that's on the great pyramid. Nobody saw it. Why? I took a photo of that, and it's very important because the second pyramid is placed in just such a way, and is just such a size that at sunset on the winter solstice it casts a shadow on the south side of the great pyramid which has exactly the same slope as the passages on the inside of the great pyramid.
We all think about building such a thing. How do you do it? And how do you get it aligned so precisely that it's accurate to one part in 7½ thousand. Obviously you can only do it with optical surveying instruments, so I was able to solve that little problem.