2000 Year Old Handwritten Documents Found In London Mud

Excavation works in the City of London has discovered the earliest hand written documents ever found in Britain.

A Great Discovery

As work began on the building of Bloomberg‘s new London offices, archeologists have announced the unearthing of a great haul of Roman wooden tablets, with various hand-written messages. These messages provide a colorful insight into life in then Roman town, which was already a busy commercial and trading hub.

The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) has released further information today on the findings and it shows evidence of trade, financial dealings and what is being interpreted as early evidence of schooling.

2000 Year Old Handwritten Documents Found In London Mud

According to MOLA, the haul gives insight into the very first decade of the English capital, “in the words of the people who lived, worked, traded with and administered the new city”. Sophie Jackson, a director at MOLA added that the discovery had “far exceeded all expectations” and gave a unique opportunity “to get closer to the first Roman Britons”.

Jackson stated, “it’s the first generation of Londoners speaking to us,” and added it a “hugely significant” find.

London was founded in A.D. 43, and rebuilt in A.D. 61 after Queen Boudica destroyed the nascent town during a Celtic rebellion

Almost 100 of these tablets have been translated, and these include a message containing the earliest written reference to London, saying “Londinio Mogonito which translates as ‘In London, to Mogontius’ and has been dated to somewhere between A.D. 65 – A.D. 80

London Life

The earliest tablet discovered, dated to A.D. 43 – 53 through analysis of position it was found in the layers of earth reads “…because they are boasting through the whole market that you have lent them money. Therefore I ask you in your own interest not to appear shabby… you will not thus favor your own affairs….”, an interesting message and perhaps still as relevant today as it was almost 2000 years ago.

The earliest actually dated tablet, from January 8th, A.D 57 (or in the words of the time, the 6th day before the Ides of January) and has been translated to read,  “I, Tibullus the freedman of Venustus, have written and say that I owe Gratus the freedman of Spurius 105 denarii from the price of the merchandise which has been sold and delivered. This money I am due to repay him or the person whom the matter will concern…”

Another piece shows someone practicing writing the alphabet which some have taken to give the first indications of some form of schooling in Roman Britain.

The Tablets

The wooden tablets would have been covered in blackened beeswax and the writing done with a stylus. The wax has since dissolved, but where the writing has penetrated the wood, the messages have been able to be deciphered. They have been preserved because they have resided in the mud of Walbrook which was once a river, but now a submerged stream. The mud kept the oxygen away from the wood and prevented decay.

The mud has acted in a similar fashion to the ash that maintained Pompeii following the volcanic eruption there or the lava which kept the remains of Herculaneum intact.

Roger Tomlin, a classicist who was tasked with deciphering the tablets stated that he had enjoyed the task, “You’re thinking your way into the hand of someone else who lived 1,900 years ago,” he said. “Your eyes are setting foot where man has never been before, at least not for a very long time.”