John Dee's scrying mirror has Aztec origins, analysis finds

Originally published at: John Dee's scrying mirror has Aztec origins, analysis finds | Boing Boing


Ah, obsidian. Seemingly the only material where pXRF analysis is possible without the long list of caveats for other materials.

Am I bitter? No, I’m not bitter…

Funnily enough I only learned about John Dee’s scrying mirror yesterday, when I watched an old episode of QI (series R, Reflections).


So… does mean it is a stolen cultural artifact ? Aztecs had opticians?


If only there were answers in the article… oh well… /s

Circular obsidian mirrors were well-known in Aztec culture and engineering, were used in many spiritual rituals there


I love obsidian. I got a carved letter opener when in Mexico once.

On the West Coast there were places one could get and knap obsidian into arrowheads. But occasionally you will find them way out east, because there was a vast intertribal trade networks in North America. I wonder if one could do that x-ray analysis and see how much if any of the material came from Mexico! IIRC there have been bison artifacts found in Mexico - which has no bison!

I just heard an amazing talk by a WSU professor on Etzanoa, which was a Wichita community of ~20,000 people along the Arkansas river that the Spaniards encountered in the 1600s. They had a bison harvesting system on an industrial scale, killing and processing whole herds and preserving the meat into pemmican. They and the others of what is called the Quivira culture were harvesting bison on massive scale and trading it with other tribes. You can also see this in pottery artifacts that come from other tribes located in storage pits.


Obligatory BöC:

If you like obsidian, you’ve got to check out “Davis Creek” obsidian. Crazy electric blues and purples, gold and silver sheen, and “rainbow”.


What was not stolen was either burnt or destroyed.

Cortés originally wanted to make the once-impressive Aztec capitol Tenochtitlan (site of modern day Mexico City) a glorious gift to the King of Spain, but when the conquest turned out to be more destructive than he expected he decided to systematically raze the place to the ground out of spite. An asshole among assholes, that one.


And given the competition for the title, that was an achievement.


I recently played Civilsation 6 as the Inca leader, Pachacuti and I took great pleasure in destroying Philip II of Spain. First I converted his people to my religion though, just to put the boot in.
I don’t usually play a military game, but it was too hard to resist in that one case.


That guy had his own issues going on…

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Lovely stuff! That one piece of obsidian looks just like spectrolite/labradorite!

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I understand they even had cameras.


Now I wonder whether you could make a basic camera with Aztec (or other prehistoric)* technology…

Beetroot juice and many other plant juices are photosensitive after all and lenses could be made from rock crystal, a material the working of which was well known to the Aztecs. Obviously exposure times would be insane and there would be no way to fix the image but I’m sure a chemical engineer sent back in time would find a way to make half-decent permanent images with the material available to the Aztecs…

* Yes, I know the Aztecs weren’t a prehistoric society


You wouldn’t need a lens for a pinhole camera or a camera obscura, and there are theories that those might go back as far as paleolithic times.

So maybe? I think a lot of technology might have been discovered earlier, possibly more than once, but seen at the time as just a novelty without any real merit and thus not documented in any way, and promptly forgotten after a while.

Per Jimbopedia, beryl is found in what today is Colombia and Brazil. Did the Aztecs have access through trade routes? (I’m thinking of where and when amber from the Baltic showed up.)
No idea whether a lens made from beryl would actually work that well compared to a pinhole, though.

(Cue Erich von Däniken: “The Aztecs had Polaroids!”)


OH wow - it almost looks like agate. I want some!

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[Sees two black discs, looks in vain for check patterns for background and reflection, sees none.] The XPELS aristocrats!


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