The Boston tea party

Rayners Lane


Enamelled bronze pan

Park Royal

Hoa Hakananai’a

A walk down Portobello (part two)

Lambeth North

Richmond railway bridge


Bronze head of Augustus

Tower bridge (part five)

Cranberry and lemon scones

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A wide variety of jewellery, ornaments and other items of dress from all cultures and periods of history can be found throughout the Museum. Humans seem to have been using clothing and adornment to make statements about who we are and who we would like to be ever since the beginning of what archaeologists call the Modern Age, 40 000 years ago. Some of the oldest jewellery in the Museum are pieces of necklaces from the last Ice Age.

Jewellery has been made from various metals as well as a host of other materials and ranges from simple items to some of the best examples of a culture’s craftsmanship. Jewellery has sometimes been worn to display the wealth or signify the importance of the wearer and often embodies other aspects of their power or their role in the community. For instance, styles of brooches and the different ways they were worn can indicate differences between neighbouring groups, regions and peoples.


Londesborough brooch.

Within the diversity there are common features, such as which parts of the body have attracted adornment. For example, it is common to see objects made to wear around the head, neck and shoulders. These may differ in form from one culture to another, but as the capes, crowns, necklaces and torcs in this section show, jewellery and clothing meant for this area of the body have often been used to proclaim power and rank. Other parts of the body often highlighted with jewellery might be called the transitions: between hands and arms, feet and legs, and at the waist.

The jewellery that has survived from the past, while often intricately made from precious materials, would have been only one aspect of the overall appearance of the wearer. The delicate and unique thick gold necklaces and brooches of the Winchester Hoard, for instance, are clearly masterpieces of metalwork and probably represented both the power and foreign connections of their owners. However, it can be difficult to imagine how these would have looked when worn along with the clothing, hairstyles and even make-up of the original wearers. Sometimes images may survive from the past, showing how people looked and dressed, and more rarely actual clothing may survive, but often we can only speculate.

The dedicate cloak made of feathers from Hawai’I which begins this section belongs to a little-kown category of the Museum’s collections, encompassing thousands of textiles and items of clothing made from cloth, animal skins, furs, plants and even bird feathers. Some are up to several thousand years old, such as fragments and occasionally larger pieces of cloth and clothing from Egypt and South America. There is even a wig from ancient Egypt. Collected throughout the world over the last 250 years are African textiles and clothing from the Pacific, the Americas and the Arctic. Mostly made from perishable organic materials, they require considerable care by specialist staff to preserve and handle them. Because of their fragile nature, these materials can only be displayed in public for short periods, which is why such important sources of information about how people dressed and looked are being made accessible through images and the internet.


Feather cloak.

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