The Oil Lamp
It is very difficult to say when and where the earliest oil lamp was used. This is partly because it is difficult to draw a line detailing when the primitive forms of creating a continuous source of light from fire can be said to be a lamp. The earliest lamps were made of naturally occurring objects, coconuts, sea shells, egg shells and hollow stones. Some believe that the earliest proper lamps were carved from stones. Curved stone lamps were discovered in places dated to the 10th millennium BCE (Mesolithic, Middle Stone Age Period, circa 10,300 - 8000 BCE).
Some Archaeologists claim that the earliest shell-lamps were in existence more than 6,000 years ago (Neolithic, Later Stone Age, c. 8500 - 4500 BCE). They believe that the alabaster shell-shaped lamps dug up in Sumerian sites dating 2,600 BCE were imitations of real shell-lamps that were implemented for a long time (Early Bronze, Canaanite / Bronze I-IV, c.3300 - 2000 BCE).
It is commonly agreed that the evolution of handmade lamps moved from bowl-shaped to saucer-shaped, then from saucer with a nozzle, to a closed bowl with a spout.
Chalcolithic Age, c.4500 - 3300 BCE.
The earliest manufactured red pottery oil lamps appeared. These were of the round bowl form.
The Bronze Ages (3200-1200 BCE)
Lamps were easy made wheel-made bowls with a slight pinch on four sides for the wick. Later lamps had only a single pinch. These lamps vary in the design of the rim, the general shape of the bowl and the shape of the base.
• Intermediate Bronze Age lamps (EBIV/MBI)
The first lamps known from Intermediate Bronze Age lamps (EBIV/MBI) With the four wick lamps. These lamps are constructed from large bowls with four shallow pinches for wicks.
• Middle Bronze Age lamps (MB)
The four-wick oil lamps carry on into this period, most of the lamps now have one wick. Early in this period the pinch is short, while later on it becomes more prominent and the mouth protrudes from the lamp's body. The bases are normal and flat. The crude potter's wheel is brought forward, transforming the handmade bowls to a more uniform container. The saucer style evolves into a single spout design.
• Late Bronze Age lamps (LB)
A more pronounced, deeper single spout is created, and it is almost closed on the sides. The design is evolving to be more triangular, deeper and bigger. All lamps are now wheel-constructed. The base is easily made, usually flat.
The Iron Age (1200-560 BCE)
The rim becomes longer and flatter with a deeper and higher spout. The tip of the spout is more upright in contrast to the rest of the top edge.
The lamps are becoming variable in design and distribution. We still find lamps very much alike to the Late Bronze period. In addition, other forms evolve, such as small lamps with a flat base and larger lamps with a circular base. The later form still goes into the Iron Age II.
In the later Iron Age, we encounter different forms. One common type is small, with a wide top edge and a wide base. Another type is a small, short bowl with a thick and high discus base.
These large lamps have narrow sides and a deep pinch, which flattens the mouth and makes it protrude outward.
Lamps are more closed to stop spilling. They are smaller and more distilled. Most are with no handles. Some are with an extended part, pierced and not pierced. The nozzle is stretched out. The top edge is folded over to make the nozzle, so it overlaps and is then pinched to make the wick hole.
They are circular in shape, wheel-made.
Production of oil-lamps shifted to Italy as the main source of stock. Molds implemented. All lamps are closed in design. Lamps made in large scale in factories. The lamp is made in two parts, the upper part with the spout and the lower part with the fuel chamber. Most are of the characteristic Imperial design. It was circular with nozzles of different forms (volute, semi-volute, U shaped), with a closed body and with a central disk decorated with reliefs and its filling hole.
The High Imperial Design. More beautification. Made locally or imported in large scale. The multiple-nozzled lamps show up. Various types.
In this period we see the frog type lamps. These are kidney or heart formed or oval. With the design of a frog or its abstraction, and sometimes with geometrical designs. They were made around 100 AD. They are so different that it is seldom that two identical ones are found.
Slipper designed. Very beautified. The multiple nozzles still persist. Almost all with handles. Some are complex in outside anatomy.
There is a transition time from Byzantine to Islamic lamps. Lamps of this transition period changed from being decorated with crosses, animals, human likenesses, birds, fish, etc., to being beautified with plain linear, geometric, and raised dot patterns.
The early Islamic lamps are a succession of Byzantine lamps. Beautifications were initially a stylized form of bird, grain, tree, plant or flower. Then they evolved into entirely geometric or linear with raised dots.
The first kerosene lamp was illustrated by al-Razi (Rhazes) in 9th century Baghdad, who referred to it as the "naffatah" in his Kitab al-Asrar (Book of Secrets).
In the transition period some lamps had Arabic text on them. Then, writing goes away until the Mamluk period (13th - 15th centuries CE).