Britain's Oldest Handwritten Document, An IOU, Found With 400 Roman London Tablets

By R. Siva Kumar - 09 Jun '16 11:31AM

London's earliest history as a busy commercial town was suddenly revealed by archaeologists from the Museum of London. They found over 400 wooden tablets from Roman London when they excavated London's financial district.

Interestingly, the discovery included the oldest handwritten document ever found in U.K.

This region was being studied and analysed while setting up the media and data company Bloomberg's new headquarters.

London was called Londinium by the Romans. The city was founded by the Romans after invading Britain in 43 AD. Even though a Celtic rebellion led by Queen Boudica in 61 AD had damaged it, the area was rebuilt again.

The wooden tablets were discovered in the wet mud of the Walbrook, which was once a river but is now a "buried stream."

Till recently, 87 of the tablets have been closely identified. One of them, dating back to 65-80 AD, had the words "in London, to Mogontius" inscribed on it. This is the earliest recorded reference to London, which thus make the writers first generation Londoners.

London seemed to have become a "thriving town" for merchants and traders just some years after being established. There were references to food orders, beer deliveries and legal rulings. The earliest dated handwritten document of London was dated Jan. 8, 57 AD.

"105 denarii from the price of the merchandise which has been sold and delivered," said the handwritten document, which was an ancient IOU where one freed slave promised to repay another.

The tablets were covered in wax by the Romans, and the words were inscribed with a stylus. Even though the wax has been damaged by time, some of the words remain.

"The water keeps out the oxygen that would normally cause decay. Our sticky Walbrook mud is like the ash of Pompeii or the lava of Herculaneum" - Roman towns in Italy preserved by volcanic eruptions," said Jackson.

Archaeologist Sophie Jackson said that it is a "hugely significant" discovery.

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