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An excerpt from the Oil lamp Wikipedia entry:
An oil lamp is a lamp used to produce light continuously for a period of time using an oil-based fuel source. The use of oil lamps began thousands of years ago and continues to this day, although their use is less common in modern times. They work in the same way as a candle but with fuel that is liquid at room temperature, so that a container for the oil is required. A textile wick drops down into the oil, and is lit at the end, burning the oil as it is drawn up the wick.
Oil lamps are a form of lighting, and were used as an alternative to candles before the use of electric lights. Starting in 1780, the Argand lamp quickly replaced other oil lamps still in their basic ancient form. These in turn were replaced by the kerosene lamp in about 1850. In small towns and rural areas the latter continued in use well into the 20th century, until such areas were finally electrified and light bulbs could be used.
Sources of fuel for oil lamps include a wide variety of plants such as nuts (walnuts, almonds, and kukui) and seeds (sesame, olive, castor, or flax). Also widely used were animal fats (butter, ghee, fish oil, shark liver, whale blubber, or seal). Camphine, a blend of turpentine and ethanol, was the first "burning fluid" fuel for lamps after whale oil supplies were depleted. It was replaced by kerosene after the US Congress enacted excise taxes on alcohol to pay for the American Civil War.
Most modern lamps (such as fueled lanterns) have been replaced by gas-based or petroleum-based fuels to operate when emergency non-electric light is required. Therefore, oil lamps of today are primarily used for the particular ambience they produce.
Lamps can be categorized based on different criteria, including material (clay, silver, bronze, gold, stone, slip), shape, structure, design, and imagery (e.g. symbolic, religious, mythological, erotic, battles, hunting).
Typologically, lamps of the Ancient Mediterranean can be divided into seven major categories:
This category includes Greek and Egyptian lamps that date before the 3rd century BC. They are characterized by simplicity, with little or no decoration, a wide pour-hole, a lack of handles, and a pierced or unpierced lug. Pierced lugs occurred briefly between the 4th and 3rd century BC. Unpierced lugs continued until the 1st century BC.
Volute, Early Imperial
With spiral, scroll-like ornaments called volutes extending from their nozzles, these lamps were predominantly produced in Italy during the Early Roman period. They have a wide discus, a narrow shoulder, no handle, elaborate imagery and artistic finishing, and a wide range of patterns of decoration.
These lamps are late Roman. The shoulder is wider and the discus is smaller with fewer decorations. These lamps have handles, short, plain nozzles, and less artistic finishing.
This is a regional style lamp exclusively produced in Egypt and found in the regions around it, between c. 100 and 300 AD. The frog (Heqet) is an Egyptian fertility symbol.
African Red Slip
Lamps made in North Africa, but widely exported, decorated in a red slip. They date from the 2nd to the 7th century AD and comprise a wide variety of shapes including a flat, heavily decorated shoulder with a small and relatively shallow discus. Their decoration is either non-religious, Christian or Jewish. Grooves run from the nozzle back to the pouring hole. It is hypothesized[by whom?] that this is to take back spilled oil. These lamps often have more than one pour-hole.
These lamps are oval-shaped and found mainly in the Levant. They were produced between the 3rd to 9th centuries AD. Decorations include vine scrolls, palm wreaths, and Greek letters.
Also called German: Firmalampen, these are universal in distribution and simple in appearance. They have a channeled nozzle, plain discus, and two or three bumps on the shoulder. Initially made in factories in Northern Italy and Southern Gaul between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD, they were exported to all Roman provinces. The vast majority were stamped on the bottom to identify the manufacturer.