Preserved Ancient Documents

I mentioned in my comment to the State of Massachusetts (which I’ve now put under a Creative Commons non-commercial share-alike licence) about the fact that the real treasure of archaeology are the written words that have survived down to our times from ages past.

Here are some links to give you an idea of the ones that I mention:

  • The Roman ink writing tablets from Vindolanda have been scanned and are online at Oxford University. Google for Vindolanda for more information.
  • There is a Wikipedia entry on birch bark letters such as those found at Novgorod which show a society where the majority of people were literate, when previously we thought only the highest classes of society would be taught to read or write.
  • Here is a lecture on Bactrian documents found in Afghanistan and what we’ve learned from them. Apparently it’s only been in the last 40 years that we’ve had anything asides from coins to go on!

But the quote that stood out to me as demonstrating the importance of these is from a webpage on Novgorod that says:

After a closer look, the roll appeared to
carry the text of letters, pressed into the bark. The sensation could be
compared with finding Troy, or the recovering of the Avesta. A whole city of
literate people, who just scratched notes to each other every now and then. Due
to these rolls the scientists were able to look into the everyday life of
ordinary people of which the chronicles had little to say.

I’ll leave you with words from two Romans, one writing a note for someone to possibly let them know what they’re in for and another on more prosaic matters.

“… the Britons are unprotected by armour (?). There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins.”

… I have sent (?) you … pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants, two pairs of sandals … Greet …ndes, Elpis, Iu…, …enus, Tetricus and all your messmates with whom I pray that you live in the greatest good fortune.