Weekly theme: Ancient pleasures, modern spice
It's easy to look into the past and get a little bemused by what those who came before us got up to, or what they thought, but this week on A History of the World we have five objects from around 2,000 years ago that show we're not so different after all.
JD Hill, lead curator of A History of the World, told me why:
Going to dinner with friends, watching a football match with mates, or sharing a cigarette are important features of many people's social lives that also reveal much about the structure and nature of 21st century society.
The objects we have this week show that 2,000 years ago we were doing pretty much the same things and, at the same time, they tell us a huge amount about the wider context in which they were made.
Objects used at Roman dinner parties reveal more than just what happened around the dinning room. They can reveal much about attitudes to sex and the surprising scale of the economy at the time. A sporting trophy from Central America shows how similar ancient passions for sport were to our own.
The Warren Cup is evidence, if any were needed, that the Romans took dining every bit as seriously as we do now. But in its scenes of love being made between men - scenes that were headline news as recently as 1999 when the Museum bought the cup - it's also evidence of Roman attitudes to sex and sexuality.
In the Hoxne pepper pot we get a sense of why this exotic spice graces our own meals to the extent it does. And the fact it was consumed in Suffolk, but grown in India tells the story of the extent of Roman trade at this time. Indeed pepper was such a significant commodity that there were those who feared it could bankrupt the empire.
In China fears over the future of empire in part inspired the creation of the Admonitions Scroll, perhaps one of the greatest works of art from the ancient world. Its scenes of life in the upper reaches of society aim to teach the women of the court how to behave, for fear their vanity, cowardice and tempting ways will undermine the dynasty. Attitudes to women have certainly changed, but the moral pronouncement on behaviour remains a feature of many modern publications.
The otter pipe shows how the earliest tobacco smoking in North America was a religious undertaking that underpinned daily life, while the ballgame belt reveals the world's oldest team sport to be a Central American ritual dedicated to the gods.
Smoking may not be so closely associated with religion anymore, but it's still with us. So too sport, which may not have the ritual significance it once did, but still retains some of the characteristics we associate with religion: hope, belief and the collective spirit. And sport can still bring together even the most disparate of tribes - just ask anyone wearing their lucky t-shirt and sobbing as penalties loom yet again at this summer's World Cup.
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