Archaeologists have found a collection of 1,900 year old ink documents at the Vindolanda Roman fort in Northumberland, northern England, one of the most exciting archaeological sites in Europe.
Vindolanda was a Roman auxiliary fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall. The fort was founded in 85 CE by Belgian auxiliary soldiers and was inhabited in various forms and layouts until well after 410 CE. It was garrisoned at different times by several units, most importantly the First Cohort of Tungrians and the Third and Ninth Cohorts of Batavians.
The Vindolanda writing tablets (letters, lists and personal correspondence) are wafer-thin pieces of wood, often less than 2 mm thick.
The 25 new documents were uncovered during the research excavation of a small area of the site and are likely to represent a part of an archive from a specific period.
“Some of these new tablets are so well preserved that they can be read without the usual infrared photography and before going through the long conservation process,” said archaeologist Dr. Robin Birley, who made tablet discoveries at Vindolanda in the 1970-80s.
“There is nothing more exciting than reading these personal messages from the distant past.”
“I was fortunate enough to be involved when my father, Dr. Robin Birley, excavated a bonfire site of Vindolanda tablets in 1992 and I had hoped, but never truly expected, that the day might come when we would find another hoard of such well preserved documents again during a day on our excavations,” said Dr. Andrew Birley, CEO of the Vindolanda Trust and Director of the Vindolanda Excavations.
A few names in the Vindolanda texts have already been deciphered, including that of a man called Masclus.
In one of the newly-discovered letters Masclus seems to have been applying for leave (commeatus).
“The work of unraveling all the mysteries in these documents will continue for several months, but one of the tablets clearly mentions an officer called Masclus, who is requesting leave or a holiday,” the archaeologists explained.
“This appears to be the very same man who over a decade later, whilst leading a troop of soldiers away from Vindolanda wrote back to the base requesting beer.”
“Other characters and authors of the letters may already be known thanks to previous Vindolanda tablets from the site, and new names will emerge to take their places in the history of Roman Britain, propelled as they now are from total obscurity to sending a direct written message to us about who they were and what they were doing and thinking almost 2,000 years ago,” they said.
The tablets are now undergoing painstaking conservation and infrared photography so that the full extent of their text can be revealed.
Sources: Science News
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