University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Fun Friday Image of the Week – Sunglasses from 7th-9th Century AD

October 22, 2010

Bronze Eyeshade, 7th-9th Century AD

Quite possibly the first pair of sunglasses ever made. Not only did they keep out sun glare, but they also kept out all that sand that was blasting around the Taklamakan desert. Imagine if you were a Silk Road merchant sitting on your camel, peddling your silks and spices. You’d probably want to sport this bling (actually, it’s more like “blunk” because it’s not that shiny, now is it?) so you can get from oasis to oasis without squinting the whole way.

These bronze eyeshades are one of 150 amazing objects from the upcoming exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road.

Bronze Eyeshade, 7th-9th century, Excavated from Tomb No. 227, Astana, Turfan, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum Collection.

This eyeshade was hammered from a piece of bronze placed over a mold. It was found covering the eyes of the tomb’s occupant. The border of the eyeshade has been punched with small holes that would have been decorated with textiles.

Eyeshades like these were worn for the same reasons we wear sunglasses today, to keep out sun, wind, and sand drifts. However in the Tupan region during the Tang dynasty, eyeshades were not used for this purpose. They were funerary items used for covering the eyes of the tomb’s occupant. In the Astana tombs of this time it was customary to cover the face with a piece of cloth. The area where the eyes should be was cut from the face cover and then an eyeshade like this one was sewn to the fabric.

Adapted from the Secrets of the Silk Road catalog produced in association with the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum, and the Cultural Heritage Bureau of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Edited by Victor Mair, Ph.D. With Contributions by: Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Ph.D., Lothar von Falkenhausen, Ph.D., Victor Mair, Ph.D., Spencer Wells, Ph.D.

Secrets of the Silk Road opens Feb 5, 2011 at the Penn Museum. Find out more at

  • I’m totally impressed to these eyeglasses. Very amazing. I really look forward to the opening of the Penn museum to see this sunglass.

  • Deborah Ann Hawkins-Ahern

    I love the video. Thank you for sharing it.

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