Bringing lightness to the dark is not only the essential quest of religion, philosophy and science but is also one of the most socially influential technological developments we have made. Ongoing projects to replace kerosene lamps with solar lamps in Africa, for example, are seeing not only health improvements from the reduction of toxic black smoke but also financial benefits in decreasing a household's reliance on kerosene fuel, which can absorb as much as 15% of a family's income. Low-cost reliable lighting also allows children to continue to study beyond daylight hours, which directly greatly improves their education and future potential.
This Roman oil lamp represents the beginnings of the journey to deliver consistent light far beyond the sun's natural cycles, and although it pre-dates electric lighting by thousands of years its implications are still seen today, in ways that are as political as they are practical.
The introduction of domestic lighting has vastly extended our working day. Like all technologies (which we should increasingly become aware are never entirely positive or even merely benign or neutral), this innovation should be seen as a trade-off. The ever-increasing expansion of light into darkness has radically encroached upon our biological need for restorative sleep, and eats at the natural boundaries of capitalist societies, which are seeing us both work longer hours and become increasingly encouraged to consume content 24/7 at a nonstop pace.
The Ancient Romans might not have had social media and glowing screens to keep them awake late at night, but oil lamps like this one would have extended their days far into their nights.