London has glass and steel towers rising in every square inch of space available, yet somehow they were lucky enough to make this discovery.
If they thought they had lost all connection with their rich history they were wrong. When construction workers were digging up the ground to build a new structure they fumbled on something unimaginably historic...HUNDREDS of handwritten Roman documents!
The tablets, which were used by the Romans like paper for note-taking, accounts, correspondence and legal documents, were discovered during excavations for Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in the City of London.
Some 410 wooden tablets have been discovered, 87 of which have been deciphered to reveal names, events, business and legal dealings and evidence of someone practising writing the alphabet and numerals.
With only 19 legible tablets previously known from London, the find from the first decades of Roman rule in Britain provides a wealth of new information about the city’s earliest Romans.
While wood rarely survives when buried in the ground, the tablets were preserved by the absence of oxygen in the wet mud of the Walbrook, which dominated the area in Roman times but is now one of London’s many buried rivers.
Recesses in the rectangular tablets would originally be filled with blackened beeswax.
This would have been written in using a stylus, and while the wax has not survived, the writing sometimes went on to the wood and can be deciphered.
Sophie Jackson, archaeologist and director at independent charitable company Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), led the dig.
‘We always had high high hopes for the Bloomberg dig, situated in the heart of the Roman and modern city and with perfect wet conditions for the survival of archaeology, but the findings far exceeded all expectations,’ she said.
‘The writing tablets are truly a gift for archaeologists trying to get closer to the first Roman Britons.’
Deciphering the tablets has revealed they include the earliest dated handwritten document in Britain, a financial record with the date of 8 January, 57 AD.
Another tablet has been archaeologically dated to 43-53 AD, the first decade of Roman rule in Britain.
This is also one containing the earliest ever reference to London in around 65-80 AD, 50 years before Roman historian Tacitus cites the city in his Annals.
One tablet is a contract from October 21, 62 AD, to bring ‘twenty loads of provisions’ from Verulamium – modern day St Albans, Hertfordshire – to London, a year after the revolt by Iceni queen Boudica.
Experts said the contract reveals the rapid recovery of Roman London after it was burned in the Boudican revolt.
The names of slaves, judges, soldiers and many others were discovered, showing that the city was inhabited by businessmen and soldiers. The animation and writing on the tablets slowly unfold the evolution of London, like a newly discovered history book. After 19 centuries this is a remarkably lucky find. They kept the tablets in water once the boards were removed from the ground, then they were cleaned and treated in order to be preserved. Let’s hope these go in a museum soon!
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