An August 4 2021 retweet imploring archeologists not to remove a golden eye from an unusually tall woman’s skeleton found in Zabol, Iran circulated across platforms, an allusion of sorts to the “2020 bingo” meme:
Do. Not. Remove. The. Golden. Eye. From. The. Unnaturally. Large. Holy. Woman's. SKELETON.
— Like Kurosawa, I Make Mad (@the_moviebob) August 5, 2021
In the above tweet, user @the_moviebob said:
Do. Not. Remove. The. Golden. Eye. From. The. Unnaturally. Large. Holy. Woman’s. SKELETON.
That user retweeted a July 13 2021 tweet by @mrstrangefact, concerning a millennia-old skeleton purportedly unearthed in Zabol, Iran:
This 5,000-year-old prosthetic eye found near Zabol in Iran is the oldest in history. It was made from tar and animal fat and painted gold. The wearer was a 6' tall priestess. pic.twitter.com/xaTcDvDnht
— All Things Interesting (@mrstrangefact) July 13, 2021
The initial tweet appeared to reflect social media’s broader affinity for jokes about apocalyptic-sounding stories, which often make their way into news cycles in the form of fabricated or exaggerated claims involving asteroids and parallel universes as well as mysterious skeletons:
Typically, when we examine those stories, they turn out to be predicated on either the mischaracterization of someone’s commentary, or years-old odd news items which were, for lack of a better description, unearthed to create clickbait. At least some readers caught on to the tactic, as one Twitter user replied on August 4 2021 questioning the validity of the pair of tweets:
@fakehistoryhunt ? I want this to be true, which is when I'm most suspicious.
— Tony (@tony_bridges_el) August 5, 2021
When we did a reverse image search on the July 2021 tweet, we found that the embedded image was not from 2020 or 2021, it dated back to at least 2006. A November 2008 Italian news article reported:
Fans of mysterious archeology have a nice puzzle that comes from the Baluchistan desert. And it has all the ingredients to fuel the most imaginative conjectures: a burnt city, a mysterious necropolis, a 5,000-year-old tomb, a woman’s skeleton and a golden eye. An enigma that will commit a new mission starting at the end of the month [November 2008] for a new campaign of excavations and new studies and which also involves the Italians: “We have been asked to study the prosthesis”, says Lorenzo Costantini, head of the Italian mission operating in the area.
The discovery took place in Iran, in Shahr-i Sokta, on the border with Afghanistan, at the end of 2006 …
On Twitter, @fakehistoryhunt linked to a Wikipedia entry for Shahr-e Sukhteh, “an archaeological site of a sizable Bronze Age urban settlement … located in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.” A subsection titled “Finds” included the “unnaturally large holy woman’s skeleton,” the “golden eyeball,” and the 5,000 year span of time between 2800 BCE and 2006:
In December 2006, archaeologists discovered the world’s earliest known artificial eyeball. It has a hemispherical form and a diameter of just over 2.5 cm (1 inch). It consists of very light material, probably bitumen paste. The surface of the artificial eye is covered with a thin layer of gold, engraved with a central circle (representing the iris) and gold lines patterned like sun rays. The female whose remains were found with the artificial eye was 1.82 m tall (6 feet), much taller than ordinary women of her time. On both sides of the eye are drilled tiny holes, through which a golden thread could hold the eyeball in place. Since microscopic research has shown that the eye socket showed clear imprints of the golden thread, the eyeball must have been worn during her lifetime. The woman’s skeleton has been dated to between 2900 and 2800 BCE.
A December 10 2006 Cultural Heritage News Agency of Iran release about the discovery noted that it was remarkable because of the artificial eye:
Archeologists in Burnt City announced unprecedented discovery of an artificial eyeball, dated to 4800 years ago, in this historic site.
Announcing this news, director of Burnt City archeology excavation team, Mansour Sajadi, said that this eyeball belongs to a sturdy woman who was between 25 to 30 years of age at the time of death. Skeletal remains of the woman were found in grave number 6705 of Burnt City’s cemetery.
Regarding the material used to make this artificial eyeball, Sajadi said: “The material this artificial eyeball is made of has not yet been determined and will be assessed through later testing. However, at first glance it seems natural tar mixed with animal fat has been used in making it.”
Initial studies on the eyeball also suggest formation of an abscess in the eyelid due to long-term contact with the eyeball. Moreover, remaining eyelid tissues are still evident on this artificial eyeball.
According to Sajadi, even the most delicate eye capillaries were drawn on this eyeball using golden wires with a thickness measuring less than half a millimeter. There are also some parallel lines around the pupil forming a diamond shape. Two holes are also seen on the sides of this eyeball to hold it in the eye socket.
Initial anthropological studies on the remaining skeleton of the woman to which this artificial eyeball belong revealed that she was of mixed race and died 4800 years ago between the ages of 25 to 30.
A London Times article reprinted by Fox News in February 2007 reporte that the Zabol priestess’ golden eyeball had been examined by archeologists well before the chaos of 2020:
They said the eyeball consisted of a half-sphere with a diameter of just over an inch. It was made of a lightweight material thought to be derived from bitumen paste. Its surface was meticulously engraved with a pattern consisting of a central circle for the iris and gold lines “like rays of light”.
Lorenzo Costantini, leader of the Italian group, said the eyeball still had traces of the gold that had been applied in a thin layer over the surface. On either side of it two tiny holes had been drilled, through which a fine thread, perhaps also gold, had held the eyeball in place.
Costantini said the woman had been as tall as 6 feet, putting her head and shoulders above most other women of the time. Aged between 25 and 30, she had a high sloping forehead, a “determined” jutting chin and dark skin, suggesting that she was from Arabia. Farad Foruzanfar, an Iranian anthropologist, agreed that the woman’s height and her “Afri-canoid cranial structure” suggested that she came from the Arabian Peninsula.
Mention of the Shahr-e Sukhteh eye appeared in a 2014 study, published in the Iranian Journal of Public Health:
The artificial eye, discovered in an ancient grave, was in the left eye socket of the woman. The archeology team estimated the age of the eye between 2900 and 2800 BC. This artificial eye should be considered as the first ocular prosthesis in the medical history. At first, it seems that designing the eye was associated with aesthetic aspects. In other words, it can be considered as an ocular prosthesis for further beautifying the beholder who was probably a rich, high socioeconomic class woman.
In short, the “Do. Not. Remove. The. Golden. Eye. From. The. Unnaturally. Large. Holy. Woman’s. SKELETON. Please” tweet was predictably viral, one of many tweets humorously discouraging scientists and archeologists from exacerbating an already-weird 2020 and 2021. However, the Zabol priestess and her golden eye were unearthed in 2006, and were mentioned mentioned in a 2014 study. In other words, whatever disruption of the “unnaturally large holy woman’s skeleton” that may have been fated to happen began long before the events of 2020.