Roman Curse Tablet from Kent Followup

The BBC’s coverage of that curse tablet that was recently looked at by Roger Tomlin hinted that more work might be done on it (A Roman Curse Tablet from Kent (and a Phylactery from West Deeping)), and now we hear that there will be … from Kent Online:

Work to conserve a Roman scroll believed to be more than 1,700 years old is to be carried out in Sittingbourne.

Archaeologist and conservator Dana Goodburn-Brown will pick up the lead tablet from Oxford University towards the end of next month.

She will then bring it back to her CSI (Conservation Science Investigations) lab at The Forum shopping centre, giving visitors and shoppers the chance to watch her working on the artefact in October.

The scroll was unearthed by members of the Maidstone Area Archaeological Group in a field in East Farleigh, in 2009.

Measuring just 60mm by 100mm and only one millimetre thick, it is believed to be a curse tablet.

Used by the Romans to cast spells on people accused of theft or other misdeeds, they were rolled up to conceal their inscriptions then hidden in places considered to be close to the underworld, such as graves, springs or wells.

Since its discovery, Dana has sought ways of reading its inscription without unrolling it due to its fragility.

She said: “We took it to the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland for neutron-computed tomography imaging but the scroll is very thin and the resolution of the tomography was not good enough to see the writing.”

Several months ago the decision was finally made to unroll it.

It was then sent to Dr Roger Tomlin, lecturer in Late Roman History at Wolfson College, Oxford, and an authority on Roman inscriptions, who spent four days examining it.

He found, in capital letters, the Latin names SACRATUS, CONSTITUT[US], CONSTAN[…] and MEMORIA[NUS], the Celtic names [ATR]ECTUS and ATIDENUS, and eight others which are incomplete.

As the Romans were the first inhabitants of Kent who could read and write the names are likely to be the earliest written record of inhabitants in the village.

Dana now plans to carry out further work to reveal more of the scroll’s letters.

She said: “It’s corroded in some places so I will be testing methods to reveal more of the letters and our new Scanning Electron Microscope, which allows us to magnify and take pictures of the letters, will hopefully be installed at CSI around the same time. So we should be able to get some more of the names.

“I’ll have it until I’m finished with it then it will go back to Dr Tomlin and eventually back to the archaeological group.”

A Roman Curse Tablet from Kent (and a Phylactery from West Deeping)

This just in from the BBC … the salient bits:

A “curse tablet” made of lead and buried in a Roman farmstead has been unearthed in East Farleigh.

Inscribed in capital letters are the names of 14 people, which experts believe were intended to have bad spells cast upon them.

The tablet is being examined by a specialist from Oxford University.

It was discovered by the Kent Archaeological Society during a dig and has undergone a detailed series of tests.

Measuring 6cm (2.3in) by 10cm (3.9in) and 1mm thick, the tablet is extremely fragile.

Experts believe it would have been used by Romans to cast spells on people accused of theft and other misdeeds.

The tablets, which have been found throughout Europe, were rolled up to conceal their inscriptions, then hidden in places considered to be close to the underworld, such as graves, springs or wells.
‘Suspected of theft’

Dr Roger Tomlin, lecturer in late Roman history at Wolfson College, Oxford, and an authority on Roman inscriptions, spent four days examining the scroll.

He said it is difficult to date the tablet but believes it was made in the third century AD.
Dr Roger Tomlin Dr Roger Tomlin said the tablet is likely to date from the third century AD

“Lists of names are quite often found on lead tablets,” he said. “Sometimes they accompany a complaint of theft addressed to a god, and name persons suspected of the theft.

“In one case, a tablet found in Germany, the names were explicitly those of enemies.”

The tablet’s significance also lies in the fact that Romans were the first inhabitants of Britain who could read or write.

This means the tablet, along with other similar items, are among the earliest written records of British life.
‘Local community’

Only six of the 14 names are legible. The Roman names of Sacratus, Constitutus, Constan and Memorianus can be seen.

There are also two Celtic names – Atrectus and Atidenus – written on the tablet.

Dr Tomlin said the eight other names are incomplete, but further cleaning and testing could lead to them being transcribed.

He added: “If this is a curse tablet, which it seems to be, it is presumably a product of its local community – so it is a reasonable guess that the persons named on it lived there.” […]

There’s a photo that accompanies the original article; it is a bit too small to be useful alas …

FWIW, Roger Tomlin seems to be quite busy … just the other day he was mentioned in bloggish sort of thing reporting on a phylactery from West Deeping that has just on on display: Unique Roman prayer tablet goes on display