Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A new little lamp

So far, so good
 I've finished carving a little reproduction of a Dorset Palaeoeskimo soapstone lamp.  While I move on to other projects, I'll spend a few minutes each day layering on grime, oil, soot, and scratches to give it the illusion of age.  The real artifacts will have often have a millimetre or two thick crust of carbonize seal oil caked on them.  In this case, I don't think its necessary to build up a layer that thick, but I would like to discolour the pot appropriately and give it some scrapes and bruises to help simulate age.

Running the pot through a candle flame is a good way to give it a nice black soot staining.  One pass isn't too convincing, but doing this over and over again with layers of oil and scratches from stone tools in between candle licks begins to give the freshly carved soapstone the feeling that its been around a long time and seen a lot of use.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. Do you know if many Dorset lamps have been found and do they all look like this? Thule lamps seem flatter and large. I wonder if there was any influence from them.

    1. Good question! The style of lamp shown here is typical of the Middle Dorset time period here in Newfoundland and Labrador (ca. 2000-1300BP). Rectangular soapstone vessels from this culture ranged in size from small ones like this reproduction to quite large pots that would have been big enough to fit a loaf of bread inside (Dorset didn't bake bread - that's just a size comparison).

      There is a spectacular soapstone quarry on the Island of Newfoundland at Fleur de Lys. It's a cliff face covered in hundreds of rectangular scars from pot removals:

      These Dorset pots are an evolved form. The first Palaeoeskimo peoples in the arctic used open hearths and didn't use oil lamps. When they first started carving stone lamps they tended to be round, shallow bowls. There is an interesting paper that just came out within the past few weeks examining these very early pots:

      You're correct about Thule lamps (Qulliqs) being larger and flatter. The lamps used by different cultures during different time periods can be very diagnostic and sometimes it's possible to make a cultural ID just on the basis of a small corner or rim fragment.


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