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Q&A

What is this object in my garden (that looks like a bomb)?

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My parents moved into a new house several years ago. In one of the gardens behind the house, we found this round metal object about the size of a bowling ball:

unidentified object, view 1

unidentified object, view 2

Both my mom and I think that it looks like a bomb, and are afraid to touch it. I know it is unlikely that it is a bomb, but it is always good to err on the side of caution. Also, who knows what kind of person lived in the house before us.

Does anyone know what it is?

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The most common use of these in my direct, personal, experience is that they were used to mark road construction / obstructions at night, before battery powered flashing lights replaced them.

It's basically a crude lantern, typically fueled with diesel fuel. The wick is inside the structure on the top, which helps to keep it from blowing out completely in the wind, and keeps direct rain off the wick.

I'm sure it could also be used as @cobaltduck says, but I saw hundreds of them used on roadworks and I've never seen one in crops (but most of the crops around where I grew up were not particularly frost sensitive.)

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What you are looking at is a vintage/ antique style of smudge pot. Although the top part held a wick which would be lit, the bottom part held slow-burning oil, not explosives, so you can relax.

The Wikipedia article on smudge pots says that they are used mainly for preventing frost on plants, and shows a larger, more modern variant, and lists several other usages over history. My family had one as a kid that looked similar to yours, but was used as a mosquito deterrent, I would guess filled with a citronella-based oil. (Today, one sees similar things in a tiki-torch looking device.) Given their use by construction crews as road flares, this might be where we got the one we had, as Dad had worked highway construction before I was born, and was occasionally able to obtain surplus.

For your use today, if it is clean and in good condition (i.e. not rusted through) it may have value to the right antique collector- I see prices on Etsy of $40 to $70. Otherwise, it might make a neat piece of decor. In any case, you needn't fear it, it should be completely safe to touch.

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