Personal time

Wooden writing-tablet from Vindolanda

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. 

Individual celebrations

Most of us celebrate our birthdays. This is an ancient practice as one of the Roman tablets from Vindolanda in the north of EnglaJewish wedding ringnd (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 various cultures, male circumcision is carried out at a prescribed time in a boy’s life. This public rite of passage is experienced by all Sacred beltmen of that society.

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

Cypriot statue showing a woman giving birthThe 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.Islamic gravestone

Some examples also describe the person and the moment their life came to an end.

Shared moments

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.  

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