ca. 4th c. BCEterracotta, wheel-made1 3/16 in. × 4 5/16 in. (3 cm. × 11 cm.)

Gift of Mr. Dana C. Estes, Honorary Degree 1898


This saucer-shaped lamp represents one of the very early stages in the evolution of lamp making in the ancient Mediterranean. The design is exceedingly simple, consisting of a shallow bowl or saucer thrown on a wheel, which is then pinched at one end to form a rest for a wick. Lamps like these were first employed in the Greek Mediterranean during the Bronze Age. Only in the Hellenistic period, from the third century BCE on, did the introduction of molds revolutionize the production of lamps. Everyday objects that provided lighting from the Bronze Age on, ancient lamps were made of a variety of materials including stone and various metals, but most were made of clay. Their design ranged from simple, utilitarian objects to ornate and intricate designs fit for ceremonial purposes. 

For collectors of the modern era, the ubiquity of lamps in archaeological excavations made them easy to acquire and popular souvenirs among tourists. Their popularity also encouraged a thriving market for lamps looted from ancient sites, and the simplicity of their manufacture (especially compared marble statuary or painted Greek vases) promoted forgeries, not unlike the market that emerged around Tanagra figurines or shabtis in Egypt. Because of their ubiquity, scholarship around lamps has produced a refined typology that makes lamps useful in dating archaeological excavations. Most of the lamps in the Estes collection are believed to have been excavated by Alessandro Palma di Cesnola during his time in Cyprus in the late nineteenth century and were probably collected by Dana Estes at one of a series of later sales of the collection in London between 1883 and 1892.

—Sean P. Burrus


1876–8, excavated in Cyprus by Major Alessandro Palma di Cesnola under the patronage of Edwin Henry Lawrence; 1879, Lawrence-Cesnola Collection, London; 1892, purchased by Dana C. Estes at Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge auction, London; acquired by Bowdoin College Museum of Art in 1898, gift of Dana C. Estes.

Dana C. Estes

Maine native Dana C. Estes (1840–1909) was a founding partner of a prominent Boston bookseller and publishing house, Estes & Lauriat (est. 1872), which later operated as Dana Estes & Co. (1898–1909).

Region: Cyprus See all 21
Map of Mediterranean Sea with the Cyprus highlighted.