Apr 16, 2015

Ancient Lamps

In a recent article in Near Eastern Archaeology, Ameera Elrasheedy and Daniel Schindler have a fascinating article on ancient oil lamps that look to me to be Iron Age and Hellenistic (“Illuminating the past: Exploring the Function of Ancient Lamps,” Near Eastern Archaeology 78:1 [March 2015]: 36–42). The article not only discusses how lamps and wicks were made, but also the amount of light produced by a typical lamp. As it turns out, the ancient lamps produced the equivalent to or double the light of an eight inch modern wax candle (closed style lamps producing twice as much as open style lamps. Based on this relatively limited illumination, the authors conclude that lamps probably did not provide ideal illumination for many tasks that required detail or the discernment of colors. Rather lamps were probably used to provide light in a supportive capacity like provide ambiance, to help light large candelabras or torches, and religious purposes. All-in-all, I just found the whole discussion fascinating.

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