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The Harvard Jars

An recent ritual with a colourful past

These sets of jars, known locally as 'Harvard Jars' all date from the early 20th century. Most of them were found in the Angarth Museum archive, and the remainder were in a basement at Judley Hall. They have no labels, but there is a small amount of information about their provenance recorded in one of the Museum's catalogues.

It seems that these jars played an important part in key rites of passage. An individual would be given a jar at key moments of their life, usually measured around five or six times for someone who lived to old age. The first jar would be received at the age of five or six, the second at the onset of puberty and subsequent jars at points such as marriage, childbirth and death.

It is not clear how widespread this practice was – there are no examples in nearby towns or villages, and this collection of 30 jars would have been connected to just 5 or 6 people. Nor is there any evidence yet uncovered of broken jars, or shards of glass. One explanation is that the jars were simply recycled and used again for the storage of foodstuffs once their ritual function had expired.

There are though several parameters by which to examine the function of the jars. The first is the colour of the water, which relates to which division of the Angarth Society the individual's family belonged. The second is the level of the water, which is simply related to the age of the individual when they received the jar. The third is the source of the water, whether it was from rain water, sea water, lake water or river water. This is obviously hard to infer without a significant analysis of the water samples which has yet to be undertaken, yet records from the Angarth Museum suggest that lake water was reserved for the aristocracy, while the merchant classes and gentleman farmers used sea water, leaving river water and rain water for any others who partook in the ritual.