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oil lamp alterative

updated sat 15 nov 03


William Lucius on fri 14 nov 03

I have always been fascinated by oil lamps. Did you know that some
prehistoric Eskimos made clay oil lamps (more like oil lamp trays)? While a
graduate student at the University of Utah I was fortunate enough to paw
through a whole bunch of Roman oil lamps (the ones with sexually explicit
modeling were everyone's favorites). However, the Ancestral Pueblo of the
American Southwest never seemed to use them - no ready source of oil?

The native clays that I use tend to be very porous at Cone 5-6, so my oil
lamps were a disaster. I evaluated the problem and realized that the oil
was passing through the unglazed foot ring. The alternative that I selected
was to design an oil lamp that sits on four stumpy legs. These turtle lamps
were inspired by 13th century Cambodian pots. I throw a smallish bowl for
the base, a matching top with a nice flared opening, add a modeled neck and
head and put it all together with the four legs. The oil just does not wick
through the thick clay of the legs. A friend from Thailand was fascinated
when I showed him one - he said that they used them in communal drinking
(something about sitting around the pot, using long straws and some sort of
transcendental drink).

I found out by experience to stay away from the scented lamp oils (they
smoke). Since I do not have access to any seal or fish from which to make
oil, I use a clear smokeless oil from the hardware store.
Mostly I give my oil lamps away to family members, who always put them on a
shelf and never light them, so I guess whether they smoke or not is

William A. Lucius, Board President
Institute for Archaeological Ceramic Research
845 Hartford Drive
Boulder, CO 80305

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