Monday, November 24, 2008

Lamp fillers or baby feeders?

First, a quick word of thanks to Sebastian for allowing me the chance to post here on Mediterranean Ceramics, particularly as the post's in some respect a selfish one. Y'see, I'm the student with whom he's working on the lamps from Beit She'an: and after discussing the several examples with him from a particular tomb, as well as associated ceramic and glass vessels, I'm left with a question I hope someone on the interwebs can answer.

Among the other ceramic vessels found within the tomb in question was a small, one-handled vessel with a bulbous body and a high neck--it'd be a stretch to call it piriform, but not entirely inaccurate--with a slender spout emerging from the body above its thickest point. More to the point, it's the sort of vessel which usually gets characterized as either a lamp filler or a baby feeder. Both are sensible enough guesses, I suppose, but they strike me nevertheless as almost comically divergent (similar shapes notwithstanding). Has anyone seen a treatment of these sorts of vessels anywhere--another example from Beit Sh'ean is at right--especially as regards their use in Late Roman or Byzantine Palestine? I'd be curious to know whether I ought to assume the thing's a lamp filler, given the presence of several associated lamps, or if I'm looking at a baby bottle. Thanks for the help!


John Muccigrosso said...

So a baby is supposed to hold that? Doesn't look likely to me, even as something a mother would hold for it. The hole on bottle nipples is minute. I suppose you could put something over it, but still, seems an odd shape for that function.

What's the earliest attested baby bottle-like thing anyway? I was just reading about a sheep's udder being used...where was that?...ah, love the searchable browser, on the Takla Makan mummies from ca. 1,000 BC:

"...the three month old child, who was buried snugly wrapped in a blanket with its cow horn cup and sheep udder bottle."

Sebastian Heath said...

Emerson, thanks for starting this discussion.

For others joining in, here are a few relevant links:

An Agora picture book illustrates some baby-feeders. The list of illustrations gives the P numbers for these. They are typologically distinct from the Beit She'an "fillers" (by which I reveal my bias).

Here's a link to the Pomegranate shaped feeder we also discussed: Make sure to see the reference to "teeth marks" on this piece. That's certainly of interest.

And this page of glass lamps from UPenn has a "filler" in glass. For what it's worth, there's no way I'd put that in the mouth of any of my children.

Dan Diffendale said...

Not a teapot, I suppose?

There's a similar vessel in the Met, apparently 7th-century BC and Greek.

A handle-less modern example is supposed to be "Great for soy sauce, coffee creamer etc"

"Filtered water jars were designed to keep unwanted elements out of water intended for drinking or cooking."
"A Taste of the Ancient World:
Serving and Eating at Karanis

Dan Diffendale said...

...unless, of course, it doesn't have a filter.

Emerson said...

No filter, I'm afraid, or at least none that's been preserved. And in fact, given the size of the thing--a scant 10cm from top to bottom--I'm inclined to think it'd make for an inefficient filtering vessel regardless.

John Muccigrosso said...

I'd like to see those teeth-marks up close before passing judgement.

One interesting feature here of course is the placement of the handle at a right angle to the spout.

Note that the babyfeeders from the agora, like the pomegranate (arguendo), have the spout high up above the internal fluid level. On a practical level that may suggest that this vessel should have its spout extend up that far too, which makes it less babyfeeder-like. Otherwise when filling, it would be likely to overflow from the spout.

Also note how open-mouthed the agora items are. What's this one look like from the top? I take the high rim to mean that it was plugged in some way or the users were at least concerned that the fluid that went in didn't spill when it was being filled. Would they do that for milk or whatever baby would drink?

Hmm, while I'm at it...what's the volume? It looks to be about, what?, 8cm to the top of the body. 4cm in diameter? So that would mean less than a 7x4(?)cm cylinder, so well under 88 ml, maybe even under 50, which is 1.6 oz, not much of a serving for a baby that was even just a few months old.

Emerson said...

Thanks, John.

I rather like the argument concerning volume, and find it convincing in the main. (The vessel, as I mentioned to Dan, is a little bigger than you assume, but not much.) Failing divine insight, or, perhaps more likely, the intervention of other discussants, I'm pretty willing to lean toward lamp filler rather than baby bottle.

Ιφιμέδεια said...

I couldn't really add significantly to the discussion (actually writing so many months from the original post) but the shape is well-known in mycenaean pottery (i.e. late helladic greece, 1400-1100 BC) and is traditionally thought to have been used in connection to children.