Life on Earth would not be possible without light and we probably have good reasons for our ancestral fear of the dark. Darkness was where the predators lived, darkness hid the unknown, so life was pretty much tied to the daylight. Actually, if you think about it, even nowadays, in the rural areas that have no electricity, life still revolves around the Sun – people wake up at sunrise and they finish their chores at sunset.
However, man, an intelligent species, always looked for means to improve his living conditions and once he discovered fire (probably by accident) he started to experiment with the benefits of the flame. Actually, the road to civilization probbaly started right at that particular moment and it’s very likely that artificial lighting led the way (almost literally at times) towards progress. Anyway, today we know that primitive humans used camp fires in their caves as a first source of artificial lighting and that started happening about 400.000 years ago.
Of course, the torch was the first portable lamp and it emerged naturally as soon as humans figured out that a bundle of sticks would conserve fire, and obviously light, for a longer period of time. But what always kept us going forward as a species was our constant thirst for progress, so it’s no wonder that about 17.000 years ago we already had lamps. In the Lascaux Caves in France there were found hundreds of lamps made from rocks, shells or horns, filled with vegetable or animal fat and a wick. The Sumerians used alabaster lamps and archeological discoveries found some dating from 2600 BC and they were so warn out that they must have been used even earlier than that. Just the same, in the Mediterranean area there were found man-made lamps dating from 2000 BC and possibly earlier.
“Animal” lamps also had their glory. For example, fireflies, where they were available, were a very popular source of lighting. And while this method still has its charm today, you’d probably think differently about the other popular method used about 7000 years ago – putting a wick on certain species of fish or birds, species that were naturally oily.
But artificial lighting was the privilege of the rich for a very long time and that was because the fuels used were either expensive (oils) or simply more useful as actual food (animal fat). In fact, when it comes to light in the houses of the commoners, this wasn’t a trend until the 14th century when candles started to be more affordable (they too were a luxury for about 1000 years).
The 19th century was the moment when we started taking bigger steps and the trigger was in the gas lamps. Gas was a much more stable and easier to handle fuel than anything else used in the past, so in 1814 London already used it in public lighting. Sixty years later we already had the first electrical filaments used on a massive scale and after that we all know what happened.
Today we have fluorescent tubes, bulbs, halogen lamps, solar lamps and a lot of other options. And once we’ve secured a solid base, obviously, we’re aiming for finer issues, so the challenges of today focus on finding the perfect design for our lights. It’s a crucial decision for our homes and we rarely make it lightly and it’s even more complicated for commercial spaces. The intensity of the light, the source, the style, the design, the colors – they all have to perfectly fit into the ambiance you’re trying to create. So give this detail the attention it deserves and don’t forget that 2014 is the year of the innovative designs in lighting!