Tablets unearthed at Vindolanda

Vindolanda Trust - Monday, July 10, 2017

An Exciting New Hoard of Ancient Roman Writing Tablets Unearthed at Vindolanda.

On the afternoon of Thursday the 22nd of June, at the Roman fort of Vindolanda in Northumberland, archaeologists made one of their most important discoveries since 1992. A new hoard of around 25 Roman ink documents, known as the Vindolanda writing tablets (letters, lists and personal correspondence), were discovered lying in the damp and anaerobic earth where they had been discarded towards the end of the 1st century AD.

These incredibly rare and fragile wafer-thin pieces of wood are often less than 2mm in thickness and about the size of modern day postcards. The documents were uncovered during the research excavation of a small area of the site (three metres in length) and are likely to represent a part of an archive from a specific period.

As the archaeological team, carefully and painstakingly extracted the delicate pieces of wood from the earth they were delighted to see some of the letters were complete and others had partial or whole confronting pages. The confronting tablets, where the pages are protected by the back of the adjoining pages, are the most exceptional discoveries as they provide the greatest chance of the ink writing being preserved.

Dr Andrew Birley, CEO of the Vindolanda Trust and Director of Excavations spoke about the day the tablets were recovered “What an incredible day, truly exceptional. You can never take these things for granted as the anaerobic conditions needed for their survival are very precise.

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.

I am sure that the archaeological staff, students and volunteers who took part on this excavation will always remember the incredible excitement as the first document was recognised in the trench and carefully lifted out. It was half a confronting tablet, two pages stuck together with the tell-tale tie holes and V notches at the top of the pages. The crowd of visitors who gathered at the edge of the excavation fences were also fascinated to see tablet after tablet being liberated from a deep trench several metres down”.

Dr Robin Birley who also made tablet discoveries at Vindolanda in 1970’s and 1980’s commented “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.  There is nothing more exciting than reading these personal messages from the distant past”.   

A few names in these texts have already be deciphered, including that of a man called Masclus who is best known via a previous letter to his Commanding Officer asking for more beer to be supplied to his outpost. In one of the newly discovered letters he seems to have been applying for leave (commeatus). 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 2000 years ago. This latest discovery is the highlight of an extraordinary excavation season at Vindolanda.

The tablets are now undergoing painstaking conservation and infrared photography so that the full extent of their text can be revealed. It is quite possible that some of the new information will transform our understanding of Vindolanda and Roman Britain and we along with other archaeologists, Latin scholars, Roman experts and interested public alike will have to wait with baited breath for the full expert translation of the tablets to begin in earnest as they complete their conservation process.

-ends-

                       

For further information please contact:

Sonya Galloway,

The Vindolanda Trust, 01434 344277

sonyagalloway@vindolanda.com

www.vindolanda.com

Follow us on twitter: @VindolandaTrust

Follow us on Facebook @thevindolandatrust

 

The Vindolanda Trust

The Vindolanda Trust is an independent archaeological charitable trust, founded in 1970. The Vindolanda Trust does not receive any annual funding and relies on the visitors to both Roman Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum to fund its archaeological, conservation and education work.

 

The Vindolanda Tablets

The first Vindolanda tablets were discovered in 1973 by Robin Birley who was a co-founder of the Vindolanda Trust and its former Director and Director of Excavations.  These documents are the very personal accounts, lists and letters of the people of Vindolanda, most of them written before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall started in the AD 120’s.  They form the most important archive of Roman writing from north-western Europe and have revolutionised knowledge of life on the Roman frontier.  They give wonderful details which cannot come to use from any other archaeological source.  In 2003 experts from the British Museum named the Vindolanda Tablets as the Top Archaeological Treasure to come from Britain.

The Vindolanda Tablet collection is held at the British Museum in London. Nine of the tablets are currently on loan to Vindolanda and are on display in a specifically designed vaulted gallery in the museum.

The Wooden underworld secures National Lottery funding

Vindolanda Trust - Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Toilet seats and potter’s wheels – rare preserved artefacts of everyday Roman life to be seen by public for first time at top Hadrian’s Wall attraction.

 

The Vindolanda Trust has gained full support with a £1.3m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to secure the future of its internationally significant collection of wooden Roman artefacts and enable the public to see many of them for the first time.

 

The Vindolanda site, possibly best known as the discovery place of Britain’s oldest surviving handwritten documents and thousands of ancient Roman shoes also has a vast collection of other organic material, preserved in the anaerobic oxygen-free ground giving visitors a unique window on the past.

 

As well as examples of leather, textiles and flora, thousands of wooden objects have been excavated at the site – from water pipes and axles to a bread shovel, inscribed barrel staves and even a toilet seat. Alongside the ancient Roman fort, the collection, which is recognised as a national treasure, tells the fascinating everyday story of those who lived and worked on the Northern Frontier nearly 2,000 years ago.

 

Made possible by National Lottery players, the ‘Unlocking Vindolanda’s Wooden Underworld’ project will expand the museum by creating a gallery with special display cases allowing temperature and humidity to be kept at safe levels, enabling significant pieces of the wooden collection to be taken out of storage.

 

Visitors will also hear the incredible survival story of the collection – from the science behind how they lasted two millennia to their conservation and the research that is uncovering their origins.

 

Patricia Birley, Chair of the Vindolanda Trust’s Development and Impact Committee, said: “We are extremely grateful to National Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund for this generous grant towards a museum extension and activities programme at Vindolanda. The new extension provides an opportunity to exhibit some of our most rare and outstanding wooden finds which form an important part of our designated Roman collection of National importance. Many of these incredible wooden objects, which include water pipes, building timbers, furniture, barrels and a toilet seat would have remained in storage and unseen without the support of the National Lottery. The new fit for purpose extension will be linked to an activity area creating a vibrant hub for visitors and volunteers”.

 

Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “From a collection of wooden Roman artefacts unrivalled in Britain to the science behind its survival, Vindolanda has an incredibly story to tell. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re delighted to support this project which will secure the future of the site’s wooden underworld and allow the public to discover its secrets for the very first time.”

 

 

Vindolanda plays an important role in the archaeological research, conservation and public enjoyment of this part of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. This project will give visitors a new opportunity to engage with the work of the Trust and view an important part of our national history. Construction work is expected to start on site this summer with the new gallery and activity room opening in late Spring 2018.

 

ENDS

 

Notes to editors

 

About the Vindolanda Trust

The Vindolanda Trust is an independent archaeological charitable trust, founded in 1970. The Vindolanda Trust does not receive any annual funding and relies on the visitors to both Roman Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum to fund its archaeological, conservation and education work.  Roman Vindolanda is regarded as the most exciting archaeological site in Europe with its wealth of archaeological remains and ongoing excavations. Vindolanda is home to the world famous Vindolanda Writing Tablets, voted as Britain’s top archaeological treasure by the British Museum, these thin hand written wooden notes have revealed an astonishing amount of first-hand information from the people who lived at this site 2000 years ago. In May 2016 the Vindolanda was awarded Designated status by the Arts Council England recognising the collection as being of national significance.

www.vindolanda.com

 

 

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

 

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk.  Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported.

 

 

Further information

 

For further information contact Rebecca Lamm, HLF press office, on 020 7591 6027 or Rebecca.Lamm@hlf.org.uk

 

For further information about the Vindolanda Trust contact Sonya Galloway, Communications Manager, on 01434 344277 sonyagalloway@vindolanda.com


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