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Within the time structures set by societies, every individual experiences and marks time in their own way.
This is often influenced by events in someone’s life, such as birth (days), rites of passage, marriage and death. These events are indicated, commemorated and remembered through objects.
Most of us celebrate our birthdays. This is an ancient practice as one of the Roman tablets from Vindolanda in the north of England (above) shows. It is an invitation to a birthday party from the wife of a Roman soldier to her friend and dates back to the first century AD.
Weddings are another memorable moment in people’s lives and many objects are associated with them. The elaborate Jewish wedding ring illustrated here would only have been used at the actual ceremony and then become a treasured symbol of this important event.
Men and women
In contrast to this public display, women from the Ainu people of the Hokkaido area in Japan would traditionally wear sacred thread under their clothes on reaching puberty. The thread would protect the wearer from disease and disasters, such as sickness or fires.
Birth and death
The two ultimate markers of time for all of us are birth and death. The beginning of life – the unique moment in the life of the mother and the child - is shown graphically in a Cypriot sculpture from the Museum’s collection. The use of this enigmatic sculpture, from the late third century BC, is unclear.
Across many cultures, death is indicated through stones, such as gravestones, which provide a physical reminder of a person’s existence.
Some examples also describe the person and the moment their life came to an end.
We also place ourselves within our societies through communal experience of events, such as jubilees, sporting competitions and anniversaries. This placement creates a collective memory, marking shared moments in time.
More information about objects featured here (from top)