I was given this little gem of a lamp, years ago, by my husband’s aunt, who knew I loved ancient history and archaeology. She was given it by a friend of hers, who apparently found it on a dig in Cheshire in the 1960’s. Apart from it’s cute, delicate, distinct ‘Bee Hive’ style, which seems quite modern and streamlined to me compared to the average ancient terra cotta oil lamp, there are a couple extraordinary things about it, that make it intriguing and very special to me.
Firstly, the fact that it was excavated in England. I have researched the style, and it is from Judea, made around 400 AD, just as the Romans were being attacked and their vast, sprawling, mighty empire was beginning to slip from their grasp. So this little oil lamp had crossed the Mediterranean in a container ship, travelled in the back of a cart for several weeks before reaching north west England to be sold at market, until finally resting on the table of a family’s house in Roman Chester. It may even have been transferred to a second ship to sail up the Mersey to eventually reach Chester, or Deva Vietrix, to give it its Roman name, which was a very large, Roman, fortified stronghold in England, much larger than Londinium in the south. How the lamp was not damaged or smashed underfoot in the centuries of battles and unrest following the depareure of the Romans, I have no idea.
But even more fascinating than its survival and journey all the way to England from Judea, is something amazing to me. There is a small mark left on a stray nobble/ smudge of clay beneath the handle. Under a magnifying glass, on this little imperfection along the lower rim, I can actually see part of the fingerprint of the man who had made the lamp in Judea, almost 2,000 years ago.
To me, this is very special. I have tried to capture this in the photograph but it doesn’t really show up well. The dreamer that I am, I wish he could somehow know how his little lamp, probably one of fifty that he churned out in a day in his shop, would be so loved and cared for by a person 2,000 years in the future.
And so there you have it! The little, well travelled, 2000 year old gem on my desk.