Preparing for death and an awareness of its inevitability was a preoccupation of 16th and 17th century Christians. Items such as this one, called a memento mori, served as a reminder to focus not on earthly pleasures or accomplishments but on the afterlife to come. In the intricate scene on this silver seal found in 2005, a skeleton holds an hourglass in his left hand, representing the passage of time, and an arrow in his right, symbolizing the shortness of life. The owner of this seal had the initials “L F”, seen above the hourglass.
After pushing this seal matrix into hot wax, the end of the seal would then be pressed onto documents in order to seal them. Similar to today’s return address on a letter, the mark left behind would give the recipient an idea of who the sender was before the document was viewed. Only 10 seal matrices have been found at James Fort, each bearing unique symbolism and likely owned by 10 different individuals. One is another memento mori seal matrix but in the form of a finger ring that could be worn for the owners convenience.
The initials on this seal are backwards on the seal itself so that they appear correctly when the wax was pressed onto a document. “L F” is unknown, but like many others who came to Virginia in the early 17th century, he most likely faced his mortality at Jamestown.