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5 June 2009 Optics history as effective instrument for education in optics and photonics
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Proceedings Volume 9666, 11th Education and Training in Optics and Photonics Conference; 966607 (2009)
Event: Eleventh International Topical Meeting on Education and Training in Optics and Photonics, 2009, St. Asaph, United Kingdom
The education problem in optics and photonics is to draw young generation on the side of light, optical science and technology. The main goal is to prove the slogan that “physics is a small part of optics”: during the thousand years optics formulated the clear worldview for humanity. In fact optics is itself presents multidisciplinary collection of independent scientific arias from one hand and was a generator of new fields of knowledge from the other hand. Optics and photonics are the regions where the fundamental problems of our reality have to be solved. The mentioned functions belonged to optics during the period of civilizations development. This is a basic idea of books serial by S. Stafeev and M. Tomilin “Five Millennium of Optics” including 3 volumes. The first volume devoted to optics prehistory was edit in 2006 in Russian. Its main chapters devoted to relations between Sun and Life, the beginnings of human intelligence, megalithic viewfinders, gnomons and ancient temples orientation, archaic optical materials and elements. It also consist the optical riddles of that period. The volume II is devoted to Greek and Roman antiquity and is in the process of publishing. It consist the chapters on the beginning of optics, mathematical fundaments and applied optics evolution. Volume III would be devoted to Medieval and Renaissance optics history. The materials are used at our university in a course “The Modern Natural Science Conceptions” for students and graduate students. In our paper the possibilities of optics history as effective instrument for education in optics and photonics are discussed.



Optics and photonics have exciting history closely tied with modern science. For receiving the harmonious education in this field it is necessary to trace the development of optics from early beginning up to current state. Such panorama of optics development arise deep interest of pupils to the subject of investigation and give fundamental knowledge. Sun light as main source of energy and basis of life was the most important object of investigation during the whole period of civilization evolution. Vision as the main source of information about the surrounded world determined the evolution of human intellect. The direct sky objects observation during thousand years helped to predict nature cycle changes and to fix man in time and space. Control of Sun, Moon and planets trajectories gave the calendar to many nations. Many megalithic facilities and observatories were built for this and religious purposes. Viewfinder as one of the first optical instrument was created as the result of ancient visual observations. Other ancient optical elements such as mirrors, lenses and magic spheres were the result of handicraft activity in metallurgy and jeweler’s art. Transparent crystals processing and glass-making create the basis of ancient optical materials.

During the prehistoric period optics had a syncretic stage with ancient philosophy and religion and had a magic context. Greek and Roman antiquity was characterized by serious interest to nature of light and mechanisms of vision. The famous Greek thinkers founded the basis of geometric optics, catoptrics, dioptrics and meteors. The contribution of outstanding scientists Euclid, Archimedes and Ptolemy to optics produced a strong influence on following ages. The main achievement of middle ages was the invention of glasses, while the main achievement of Renaissance was the development of perspective theory, demonstrating the optical knowledge penetration into fine arts technology.

In our paper the general context with selected illustrations of two our books is presented to give the common impression of collected information on civilizations history seen by optician eyes.



Introduction 12

Chapter 1. Sun and Life 17

  • 1.1. Sun messenger 17

  • 1.2. Beginnings of life 19

  • 1.3. Light, eye and brain 25

  • 1.4. Sun-earth interconnections 35

Chapter 2. The cradle of intellect 44

  • 2.1. Myths, legends and symbols (fig.1) 46

  • 2.2. Horr eye (fig.2) 59

  • 2.3. Images and letters 63

  • 2.4 Sky cycles and calendars (fig.3) 78

Fig. 1.

Sun symbols of different nations and times



Horr eye and its interpretation as fractions



Calendar marks on bones from pal eolith.


Chapter 3. Megalithic viewfinders 100

  • 3.1. Megalithic civilization and stone viewfinders (fig.4) 100

  • 3.2. Linear backing. Menhirs, leis and stone ranges 109

  • 3.3. Viewfinders with seculated aperture. Dolmen and dromoses 121

  • 3.4. Cromlechs and horizon observatories 141


Stone menhir with seculated viewfinder aperture


Chapter 4. Gnomons and ancient temples orientation 164

  • 4.1. Gnomons as elements of reversal backing (fig.5) 165

  • 4.2. Sacred symbols of ancient viewfinders 176

  • 4.3. Temple complexes orientation in Europe and Asia 191

  • 4.4. Temples and complexes of New World 216


Gnomons in ancient Egypt


Chapter 5. Archaic optics: materials and elements 231

  • 5.1. Bronze mirrors (fig.6) 231

  • 5.2. Magic mirrors of China and Japan (fig.7) 241

  • 5.3. Natural crystals and its processing 252

  • 5.3. Lenses and spheres (fig.8) 262


Ancient Egyptian mirror



China magic mirror



Ancient crystalline lens from Ninevia, VIII BC.


5.4. First glass 273

Application. Ancient optical mysteries 282

  • 1. Mystery of megaliths 282

  • 2. Pyramids, Orion constellation and Zodiac cycles 284

  • 3. Myths of ancient Egypt and Arcaim 286

  • 4. Viewfinders for skies 289

  • 5. Ancient telescope (fig.9) 290


Ancient telescope?


6. Quartz sculls (fig 10).


Quartz scull illustrate HT handling


Conclusion 294

Literature (295 pos.) 296



Introduction 7

Part I. Principles of antique optics 26

Chapter 1. Antique mythology and light metaphysics 27

  • 1.1. Light and vision in mythology (fig1) 29

  • 1.2. Metaphysics and natural philosophy of light 34

  • 1.3. Color symbolism and antique chromatism 41


Narcissus and his reflex.


Chapter 2. Main stages of scientific knowledge evolution 52

  • 2.1. Classification of scientific disciplines 54

  • 2.2. Main stages of antique science (fig.2) 59

  • 2.3. Optics among antique disciplines 92

  • 2.4. Structure of antique optics 96


Plato Academy.


Chapter 3. Physical theories of visual perception 104

  • 3.1. Extramission (fig.3) 111

  • 3.2. Intramission 114

  • 3.3. Sinaugogia and sinestasis 121

  • 3.4. Acsidensia 132

  • 3.5. Color’s nature and color perception 136


Ocular beams


Chapter 4. Vision physiology and psychology 148

  • 4.1. Vision physiology. Eye models (fig.4) 150

  • 4.2. Vision psychology. Optical illusions 165

  • 4.3. Vision and cognition 173


Galen’s model of eye


Part II. Mathematical principles of optics 190

Chapter 5. Studies of direct vision 191

  • 5.1. Optics of vision 194

  • 5.2. Direct vision in Euclid “Optics” 201

  • 5.3. Direct vision in Archimedes and Hero “Catoptrics” 206

  • 5.4. Direct vision in Ptolemy “Optics” 209

  • 5.5. Illusions of direct vision 216

Chapter 6. Catoptrics 220

  • 6.1. Euclid’s catoptrics 222

  • 6.2 Archimedes’ and Hero’s catoptrics 227

  • 6.3. Catoptrics theorems in Ptolemy “Optics” 230

  • 6.4. Multiple mirror systems and burning mirrors 241

  • 6.5 Archimedes’ burning mirrors (fig.5) 248


Antique mosaic with the scene of Archimedes death


Chapter 7. Dioptrics 257

  • 7.1. Ptolemy’s theoretical analysis of refraction 260

  • 7.2. Ptolemy experiments with light refraction 262

  • 7.3 Atmosphere refraction 268

  • 7.4. Localization of refractive images and their distortion 270

Chapter 8. Meteors

  • 8.1. Aristotle’s Meteorologica 276

  • 8.2. Theory of humid meteors 279

  • 8.3. Theory of circular meteors (fig.6) 283

  • 8.4 Theory of visual rays for study meteors 291


Antique mosaic with rainbow


Part III. The beginning of applied optics 297

Chapter 9. Optical materials, elements and technologies 298

  • 9.1. Bronze and mirrors (fig.7) 299

  • 9.2 Optical crystals and jewelry produces (Fig.8) 304

  • 9.3. Crystal lenses (fig.9) 308

  • 9.4. Schliemann lenses and Nero monocle 313

  • 9.5. Crystal spheres. Antique telescope 317

  • 9.6. Glasses and decoration produces 322

  • 9.7 Mosaics from smalt 331


Fragment of vase decoration






Antique crystal lens


Chapter 10. First optical instruments 341

  • 10.1. Gnomonic 344

  • 10.2. Evolution of viewfinders 356

  • 10.3. Lamps 364

  • 10.4. Lighthouses and light telegraph 369

  • 10.5. Imaging optical systems: myth or reality? 375

Chapter 11. Optics and arts 382

  • 11.1. Paintings (fig.10) 385

  • 11.2. Scenography 391

  • 11.3 Sculpture 396

  • 11.4 Architecture (fig.11) 398

  • 11.5. Theatre 404


Fragment of antique vase decoration



Optics in architecture


Conclusion 413

Applications 440

Archit and optics 440

Lucretsy and vision 444

Theofrast 458

Literature (393 pos.) 464

We hope that brief review will give the common impression about the context of our books. The conference on education and training in optics and photonics at Technium OpTIC at St. Asaph is a good opportunity to discuss possible profit of translating two volumes of “FIVE MILLENIUM OF OPTICS” into English. The authors use the study of optics history for education in optics and photonics themselves and recommend other specialist to follow their practice.

© (2009) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.
S. K. Stafeef and M. G. Tomilin "Optics history as effective instrument for education in optics and photonics", Proc. SPIE 9666, 11th Education and Training in Optics and Photonics Conference, 966607 (5 June 2009);


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