Mirror, mirror on the wall …

Christina here. I have always found mirrors fascinating and I’m sure that’s been true for most people ever since the first caveman/woman happened to catch sight of him- or herself in a still pond or lake somewhere. Therefore, a recent TV programme I watched (Raiders of the Lost Past with Janina Ramirez on BBC2) about amazing archaeological finds in the 9,000-year old city of Çatalhöyük in Turkey, caught my attention. The presenter held up a mirror that was 7000 years old! It wasn’t what we would call a mirror really, but a piece of obsidian – rounded on one side to fit nicely into the palm of your hand and polished flat on the other side to such a shine that you could see your face in it. I was astonished to think such a thing existed so long ago!


Janina Ramirez ©BBC Television

It made me start thinking about mirrors in the past and of course I went down a rabbit hole …

Clearly, still water must have been the first type of mirror, and if no ponds, lakes or puddles were available, some water in a dark bowl or vessel could have been used. But that’s not very practical if you want to see yourself from any direction other than leaning above the surface. Apart from polished obsidian, apparently volcanic glass was also used in pre-historical times, then came polished copper, bronze and silver, and later steel. These are not very satisfactory though as the reflectivity is poor and these metals also tarnished quickly so had to be polished often.

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