Since electricity is the advantage of our modern times, we cannot help to wonder what types of illumination items our ancients used to fight against darkness. Most archaeological evidence indicates the fact that oil lamps were among the first lighting items used ever since prehistoric times. Any of us would even be surprised to learn that in some communities, oil lamps are still part of the rural lighting tradition. The design and the shape of classical lamp oils has little changed since the old ages even now in the 21st century when we benefit from so many technological advantages.
In most cultures oil lamps played a double function, they had a practical lighting role as well as a ritual one since they were mainly used in temples and public buildings most often for ceremonial and votive purposes. Historians have been able to identify certain elements specific to a culture only starting from the quality, the design and the decorations of oil lamps. Thus, such a very common item could tell one a lot about the wealth, and the social status of the house owner where the oil lamp was discovered. They are present in cultures all over the globe regardless of geographic boundaries, and the first oil lamps were often favorite means of paying homage to supreme female deities.
There are several components in the structure of oil lamps that are definitely worth mentioning here; first of all, there was the fuel chamber where oil was placed through a pouring hole. Then a special opening in the body of the lamp left room for the passage of the wick, and last but not least, the handle used to be an important part in the design of oil lamps too. However, there were models where the handle was absent from the structure. The wick was usually made of textile fibers, and the choice of the materials was also important for the matter since it influenced the burning process as some burned more quickly than others.
As for the fuels used in oil lamps, olive oil, fish oil and Castor oil were among the most commonly encountered in the past, not to mention that in some part of the world even sesame oil was used as to generate light. The fuel was deposited in the fuel container and had one side of the wick dripped in it. Depending on the density and the quality of the fuel, oil lamps burnt without producing any unpleasant smell or smoke; however, this was not always the case since very few people had the means of purchasing good quality expensive oils.
Muna wa Wanjiru Has Been Researching and Reporting on Lamps for Years. For More Information on Oil Lamps, Visit His Site at OIL LAMPS
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