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Hampshire Museums Service

Dunkirt Barn Roman Oil Lamp

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This terracotta lamp was found during Sir Barry Cunliffe’s excavations at Dunkirt Barn Roman Villa, Abbotts Ann, to the south west of Andover, in 2006.  It would have been made in the second century AD or later, and is a copy of a ‘factory lamp’ (firmalampe), so called because the originals were mass-produced elsewhere in the Roman Empire, bearing a stamp identifying the particular manufacturer. This lamp has no such mark on its base.  It could have been copied from two types of ‘factory lamps’, the earlier of which was introduced into Britain c. AD 70.  This model was replaced by another type which appeared c. AD 100.  Such lamps would have been fuelled by olive oil imported from the Mediterranean.

The small lamp (it is 86mm in length) was formed in a mould from orange-coloured clay tempered with quartz particles, which helped to control shrinking during the firing process. Oil would have been introduced to the lamp through the pouring hole in the central sunken discus. This is surrounded by a raised ridge which continues along the nozzle and around the protruding wick-hole, enclosing a wide groove which could have collected oil exuded from the wick.  On the rim are two shoulder lugs and a pinched protrusion directly opposite the nozzle. This may have acted as a small handle, or these protuberances may have been a vestige of the decorative features found on some originals.


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