Tyne & Wear

Vindolanda fort dig unearths personal messages

Tablets Image copyright Vindolanda Trust
Image caption The writing is visible on some of the tablets

"Personal messages from the distant past" have been unearthed at the site of a Roman fort.

The hoard of around 25 wooden writing tablets was discovered by an archaeological team at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland.

Consisting of letters, lists and personal correspondence, the items had been discarded towards the end of the 1st Century.

Work is under way to conserve the tables and decipher the messages.

Image copyright Vindolanda Trust
Image caption The damp and anaerobic conditions of the earth helped preserve the tables

A few names in the texts have already been deciphered, including that of a man called Masclus who seems to have been applying for leave (commeatus).

Dr Andrew Birley, director of excavations at Vindolanda Trust, described the find as "truly exceptional".

Image copyright Vindolanda Trust
Image caption The wooden tablets are wafer-thin and the size of a modern postcard

He said: 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 preserved documents again during a day on our excavations."

Image copyright Vindolanda Trust
Image caption A painstaking process of conservation work is under way

Dr Robin Birley added: "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."

Image copyright Vindolanda Trust
Image caption The site, near Hexham, has previously revealed gold and silver coins and other artefacts of the Roman army

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