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.

Ancient footprint discovery leaves lasting impression at Vindolanda

Vindolanda Trust - Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Nowhere gets you closer to the Romans on Hadrian’s Wall than the fort and settlement of Vindolanda, the extraordinary hoard of personal artefacts gives you a unique insight into the lives of people living here 2000 years ago. The latest addition to the collection of artefacts from the current excavation has certainly made an impression on everyone. Someone 2000 years ago quite literally put their foot in it and as a result a volunteer digging at the site has unearthed a tile with a clear imprint of a human foot that accidentally, or perhaps mischievously stood on the freshly made object.

 

The partial print of a right foot, thought to be comparable with that of an adolescent has been dated to 160-180 CE. The volunteer who found the tile was student Mel Benard who is digging at Vindolanda with a Canadian Field School from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Mel, who was delighted with the discovery explained “this was the first artefact that I had found, I knew straight away that it was a footprint and it is so exciting to have discovered something which links you directly to that individual nearly 2000 years later”

 

Many thousands of tiles have been found at Vindolanda, some occasionally with the imprint of an animal left behind but this is the first time a human print has been discovered at the site. “This find is really extraordinary”, explains Co-Director of the University Field School, Dr Elizabeth Greene, “it brings full circle the story that Vindolanda has to tell. The thousands of leather shoes from this site (over 6,000) give us a unique perspective on the people who lived at Vindolanda but this footprint highlights even more that archaeology has the potential to illuminate the lives of otherwise voiceless individuals from antiquity”.

  

During their visit last year the Field School took part in the excavation of a tilery at the site and Dr Alexander Meyer who brings the Field School to Vindolanda noted that the date of this tile is contemporary with that of the kiln site. “Vindolanda is a fascinating place, and we are very fortunate to be able to bring our students here so that they can play their part in piecing the jigsaw of the past back together and further the understanding of an ancient civilisation on this northern outpost”. Dr Meyer went on to say “I imagine the boy or girl who stepped in this newly produced tile was in more than a little trouble”.

The excavations at Vindolanda continue until 25th September and the footprint is one of many great discoveries from the site already this year.  Weekly highlights from the digs are posted on the official Facebook and Twitter pages of the Vindolanda Trust so enabling more people to look at the latest finds.  Once the tile has been conserved and researched it will go on public display within the Vindolanda museum, much to the delight of student Mel who said “finding something which would be considered special enough to go on display in the Vindolanda museum with all the other amazing artefacts was one of the ambitions of the Field School, we are all absolutely thrilled”.

ENDS

Link to pdf of press release -   Press release - Foot in the Tile

Photos: Jpegs available of:

  • Mel Benard with tile
  • People excavating at Vindolanda
  • Vindolanda Aerial View

 

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 man Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum to fund its archaeological, conservation and education work.

Roman Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum are both situated in the heart of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site, Roman Vindolanda is just to the north of the village of Bardon Mill and the Roman Army Museum is next to the village of Greenhead.

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.

The Vindolanda Field School – University Western Ontario Canada

The Vindolanda Field School is a 5 week summer programme offered through the Department of Classical Studies at Western, with Dr Elizabeth Greene and Dr Alexander Meyer, supported by the Vindolanda Trust. The programme gives students in-depth field training as well as post-excavations work and archaeological drawing and recording.  Students record their experiences during the Field School at the following blog site. https://westernclassicalstudies.wordpress.com/

 Contacts:

Dr Beth Greene: egreene2@uwo.ca

Alexander Meyer: alex@awmeyer.net


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