Inlaid Quartz Eyes

In an effort to help our understanding of inlaid quartz eyes and colors used in Ancient Egypt I went through the photographs given in "Egyptian Treasures, from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, (ET)" Francesco Tiradritti, Ed., White Star, Vercelli, Italy, 1998 & 2000, as correlated with the catalog published by A. Lucas and J. R. Harris, "Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries, (LH)" E. Arnold, London, 1962, under Dover Reprint, 1999, Chapter on Inlaid Eyes. The last is a comprehensive list of all known inlaid eyes at the time of publication in 1926, for all museums. Lucas died in December, 1945. Harris then reissued under several editions, with his name as co-author. How much Harris kept the catalog list up-to-date I cannot say, since he does not show his editing additions. The photographs in ET appear to be faithful to the original colors, as much as is possible with current color printing.

ET has six items; five of these are verified by LH. I shall list each separately. Since I use ET all are in the Cairo Museum. I use the following format:

Statue Name

Cairo Museum Identity Number

ET page number

LH page reference

Date of discovery.

Approximate date of creation.

Color (I use my estimate of color from the ET photographs. In each case LH verifies my choice.)

Material used for object, all painted.


The links take you to an enlarged view of the object. You can adjust size with your software for easier viewing.

1. Rahotep and Nofret, CG3-4, 63-63, 101,1871, 2560 BC, brown and gray, limestone.

Rahotep Nofret Rahotep and Nofret

2. Ka-aper, (Sheikh el Beled) CG 34, 74, 101,1860, 2470 BC, gray, wood.


3. Seated Scribe, JE30273 (CG 36), 76, 100, (1850?), c. 2450 BC, gray, limestone.

Squatting Scribe

4. Male Figure, JE 30273 (CG 35), 77, 101, 1893, c. 2450 BC, gray, limestone.

Male Figure

5. Mitri, JE 93165, 84, (?), 1925, c. 2500 BC, gray, limestone. (The missing data in LH may be due to its late discovery. Original LH publication in 1926.)


6. Hor, Ka statue, JE 30948 (CG259), 134-135, 106, 1894, c. 1700 BC, brown and gray, wood.

Hor Face Hor Full

Notes to listed objects:

  1. R and N have a clearly distinguishable difference in iris color. This suggests that the creators intended to portray that difference.
  2. The statue of Ka-aper in ET may not be sufficiently clear to convince observers of the color. My first estimate was verified by LH. Other published photographs show color more toward gray (blue). Again, this depends upon lighting conditions. Refer to examples for the Hor statue, which appears differently for different lighting conditions and photography.
  3. and 4. The colors are definitely not brown. Hence the choice for gray.
  4. Clearly gray.
  5. The 10 X 14 inch page format in ET produces the face of Hor as a large image. The difference in eye color between the two eyes is readily seen. This removes all doubt about the effect of lighting, or the false impression received from other published photographs.

General Notes:

LH made remarks that affect our understanding of the intent of the colors in the inlaid eyes. I offer those before adding my own observations.

Page 100:

"Iris: there is no separate iris, but the effect of a brown iris is produced by a disc of dark brown resin placed behind the cornea, as dimly seen through the matt surface at the back. Sometimes the iris is grey, or partly grey and partly brown, and I have found by experiment that when the cornea is merely placed in the resin, and is not in absolute contact with it at every point, but is separated from it by a thin film of air, the appearance, as seen from the front, is grey, and is due almost entirely to the optical effect of the matt surface at the back of the cornea, but when the resin is in absolute and intimate contact with the cornea, the colour, as seen from the front, is brown. The majority of present-day Egyptians have brown irides, and it seems probable, therefore, that this also was the case anciently, hence brown irides are more likely than grey ones. If the original colour were brown, the cornea must have been placed in position when the resin was still in the viscous condition, before it cooled and became solid, since only in this manner could absolute contact between the cornea and the resin have been produced. If so, then the grey, or patches of grey, may be explained by assuming that in these cases the resin has shrunk, so that it no longer makes absolute contact with the cornea."

Pgs 107-108:

". . . but in ancient Egypt, although the iris of the natural eye occasionally may have been black, probably it was brown, like the majority of the present-day Egyptian irides, and when a definite and separate iris is represented in an artificial eye, whether inlaid or painted, it is never black, so far as is known, but always either brown or grey. The grey, except when painted, most probably was brown originally, and when painted it is always of very late date, namely of the Graeco-Roman period, and hence may represent the iris of someone who was not an Egyptian, or not wholly Egyptian. Since, therefore, it was the pupil only of the Egyptian eye that was black, to call the black disc in the middle of the eyeball the iris is wrong."

Lucas does not admit blue, only gray, and his explanation is lack of proper contact with brown resin. Clearly his explanation was strongly influenced by his notions of what we should expect in genetic features. He would extrapolate current Egyptian citizenry back upon the past, and with the belief that the ancient Egyptians came out of African origins. The clear consistency in iris color across the iris in any one statute could not be due to accidental contact with the resin material. Since Lucas was not able to disassemble any of the museum objects his belief that color was due to resin is strictly his interpretation without acknowledgement of paint as the possible source of the iris color.

Gray versus blue is difficult to distinguish. Many persons might observe gray, others blue.

The Hor statute is curious with one brown and one gray eye. My brother was born with one brown and one blue eye. Although Lucas assigned the different colors to later alteration of the statue, it may originally have been intended to portray those two colors.