Illuminating the Late Mesolithic: Residue Analysis of 'Blubber' Lamps from Northern Europe

By Heron, Carl; Andersen, Soren et al. | Antiquity, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Illuminating the Late Mesolithic: Residue Analysis of 'Blubber' Lamps from Northern Europe


Heron, Carl, Andersen, Soren, Fischer, Anders, Glykou, Aikaterini, Hartz, Sonke, Saul, Hayley, Steele, Val, Craig, Oliver, Antiquity


Introduction

Pottery is traditionally associated with sedentary farming communities that appear across the globe in the wake of the introduction of agriculture. However, in Eurasia, Africa and North America it is now clear that pottery pre-dates agriculture, sometimes by several millennia (Barnett & Hoopes 1995; Jordan & Zvelebil 2009). Identifying the needs that hunter-gatherers and farmers had for pottery containers is challenging. A variety of forros and styles is encountered and pottery vessels operated in social, as well as technological and functional domains. In Europe, clear cases of forager pottery manufacture and use are known in the circum-Baltic region. Whilst large cooking pots were used by late foragers and early farmers in this region, one form of vessel is particularly notable by its presence on late forager sites and its absence on all except perhaps the very earliest farming sites: the oval ceramic bowl (Andersen 2010).

This type of pottery is found in the Mesolithic 'Ertebolle culture' of Denmark and northern Germany from around 5000 cal BC. In a paper entitled 'Blubber lamps in the Ertebolle culture?' Mathiassen (1935) described a number of oval bowls from Danish sites drawing on the analogy of soapstone or ceramic lamps among the Inuit in the Arctic. Describing the interior surface of one Ertebolle bowl as having a "greasy look", Mathiassen concluded that "its appearance is exactly like that of ancient Eskimo blubber lamps of soapstone" (1935: 145) and he suggested that oil from seal or whale was the most likely fuel. Lamps thought to have been used for lighting and fuelled using deer fat were also observed at inland locations particularly among the 'Caribou Eskimo' to the west of the Hudson Bay (Birket-Smith & Calvert 1929).

Although other uses have been suggested (e.g. Hulthen 1977) these distinctive vessels have become known as 'blubber lamps'. The vessels have either rounded or pointed ends and display a great variation in size. The rims are simply rounded by smoothing although some vessels are decorated with fingernail impressions (Andersen 2009, 2010). Experiments conducted by van Diest (1981) using reconstructed vessels lend support to Mathiassen's analogy. Using seal blubber for fuel anda moss wick, one lamp burned for 5.5 hours, while a lamp filled with tallow burned for 4.75 hours. When the vessels were used as lamps, van Diest noted patterns of sooting and burnt deposits consistent with those observed on Ertebolle bowls.

Lipid analysis

The potential of lipid analysis to characterise 'organic residues' and provide assessments of food and non-food products in pottery vessels has emerged as a powerful tool in recent years (see Evershed 2008 for a review). Lipid analysis has been applied to putative lamps from diverse archaeological contexts. Analysis of stone 'lamps' from Upper Palaeolithic cave sites in France (De Beaune 1987: 170), many of which retain evidence of burning, recovered "fatty acids of animal origin (composition similar to that of Suidae or Bovidae)". Other notable applications include the detection of both animal fats and plant oils used to fuel lamps (dated to AD 600-1500) flora Qasr Ibrim, Egypt (Copley et al. 2005); Brassicaceae seed oils in lamps from Antinoe, Egypt, dating to the fifth to seventh centuries AD (Colombini et al. 2005); the presence of beeswax in Minoan conical cups thought to have been used as lamps (Evershed et al. 1997); possible olive oil in Roman to early Byzantine ceramic lamps from Sagalassos, south-west Turkey (Kimpe et al. 2001); bovine/ovine adipose fats in ceramic lamps from Olbia, Ukraine, dating from the fifth century BC to the fourth century AD (Garnier et al. 2009); and ruminant adipose fats in medieval lamps from Leicester, UK (Mottram et al. 1999). Recent investigation of the small 'cups' fashioned from chalk and recovered from excavations at the Late Neolithic/Bronze Age flint mine at Grimes Graves, UK, failed to recover lipid residues and could not confirm whether these vessels had served as lamps (Tanimoto et al. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Illuminating the Late Mesolithic: Residue Analysis of 'Blubber' Lamps from Northern Europe
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.