London is one of the busiest financial centers of the modern world. And historians have revealed evidence that two thousand years ago, business deals were being struck on exactly the same spot. Archeologists have unearthed the oldest handwritten documents ever found in Britain. And perhaps fitting me for the financial district, they include receipts for copious amounts of beer. Sophie Jackson, project manager for Museum of London Archeology told Rebecca Caspi more.
Well, we found all the tablets on an excavation that we were doing right in the center of the city of London, one of the richest archeological areas in Britain. And as we dug down, we were digging through essentially what was a Roman river valley. And we started finding these little fragments of wood. There are little fragments of notes of memos, essentially Roman memos, contracts. And there are some documents which are almost like e-mails that sort of people chatting to each other backwards and forwards. So there’s one where one Roman is telling that the people are boasting in the market that he’s done a really dodgy investment. But he can’t do anything about it cuz he will appear shabby.
Well, that may be the first message of that sort in the city of London, I’m sure, and certainly not the last. But, but how did they manage to survive so long because we are talking about two thousand years ago really, aren’t we?
The reason they’ve survived is cuz they are in this lovely boggy wet, essentially back field river channel really. And the water in the channel keeps the oxygen out, preserves all sorts of organic materials that normally decay. So it’s really the exceptional preservation conditions on the site that means we have these tablets.
And what does it tell us about these early Londoners? And what do we already know about what London was like as a town back then?
Well, what’s really exciting about the tablets is that they’re very early. We think London was founded quite soon after the invasion, possibly 46 or 48. There’s been a lot of debate about what the character of the town looked like in those early years. What these tablets tell us is it was absolutely full of businessmen really. Yes, there’s evidences of military, as well. But you know, it’s obviously the town that setting up really really quickly. We even have information on pretrial hearings and people being caught. You know, there’re magistrates in place. We found these legal documents where they are actually almost like templates for writing contracts. There were spaces on these writing tablets for people to write their signatures, to press their seals in. I mean, it was all fantastically organized.
So in terms of the practicalities, would they be sort of scratching these messages directly onto the Word or how would they do it?