I'm transfixed by oil lamps from the ancient world.
This most fundamental of household accessories was as ubiquitous in antiquity as lightbulbs are today. Thus, these terra cotta lamps are among the most frequently excavated artifacts at dig sites from the Iron Age to the Islamic period, spanning the Middle East and throughout the ancient world.
The utility of these lamps is obvious. After all, how much more basic can it be than to dispel the darkness and tame the night?
But these lamps also have a very strong spiritual connection: The introduction of light is a metaphor for the dispelling of ignorance.
The Gospel of Luke advises: "Do not hide your lamp under a bushel, put it on a lampstand in the room so that all may see."
The Buddha's final words were said to have been "Be a light unto yourselves."
Here are a couple of lamps from my small collection.
Roman oil lamp from the 1st or 2nd century. This lamp was made from a mold. On the discus -- the round, recessed cirular part of the top of the lamp -- there is a scene of a donkey jumping over a sleeping dog. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to make out in these shots. This type of lamp is commonly found at Roman sites throughout Italy and in every part of the former Roman Empire.
Israelite lamp, circa 300 B.C.E. This lamp was thrown on a potter's wheel. It's about the size of an espesso cup.
Mold-made lamp from the Byzantine era, around 400-500. This lamp features such Jewish iconography as a menorah (near the spout) and stylized bunches of grapes.