The beginning and end of time

The Maiolica dish showing God creating the sun and moonAlmost all stories describing the creation of the world we live in include explanations of how the sun, moon and stars came into being, giving us day, night and the seasons. These phenomena are our basic measuring blocks for time. An interesting question raised by this is whether time exists if nobody measures it? 

The Museum collection can give us an insight into how some cultures have viewed ideas of eternity, reincarnation and cycles of time.

Cycles of time

Bronze figure of Nataraja

In the Hindu world, the god Shiva appears as Lord of the Dance – Nataraja - at the end of one cosmic cycle and the beginning of the next. He is therefore associated with both creation and destruction.

In his hands he holds both destructive fire and the double-sided drum, the sound of which, summons up new creation. Traditionally, time in India is considered to be cyclical, rather than linear, as it is in the West.

The end of time

People in most cultures are fascinated by imagining the end of time and express their visions through the objects they create.

The Atomic Apocalypse, by the Linares family

Whether through natural or manmade causes, apocalypse, or the end of the world, features highly in our social consciousness. The threats of war, famine, disease and death are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.

A sculpture carried in the Mexican Day of the Dead annual celebrations from the 1980s depicts the Atomic Apocalypse, referring to political events such as the threat of nuclear war.

Alabaster panel showing signs of the Last Judgement

Several centuries earlier, this fifteenth century English alabaster carving of the end of the world was created. Though separated by hundreds of years, both objects show how art has been used to remind people of their impending doom. 

People have always considered the passage of time and what it means, as well as how it started and how it will end. Modern scientists are still investigating theories of time, space and the origin of the universe.

More information about objects featured here (from top)

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore

Shop Online

Pocket timeline to Mesopotamia, £7.99

Pocket timeline to Mesopotamia, £7.99