Writing rubbish


When I got home with the shopping this afternoon I unpacked everything and threw my shopping list in the bin.

This evening I went to a talk about a project to teach Latin in primary schools. The highlight of the evening was a presentation from an ancient professor of ancient history, who spoke about the Vindolanda tablets.

These are fragments of wood with handwritten inscriptions excavated from a boggy Roman rubbish heap at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, near Hadrian’s wall. They are uniquely well-preserved and represent the oldest handwritten documents found in Britain. They are also the sort of documents that you would throw away when you were having a clear out (as camp commander Flavius Cerealis and his men were, just before they moved out a warmer posting in southern Europe): business letters, lists, accounts, unfinished reports and jottings.

For example:

Tablet 233: “Gruel… pork crackling… trotters”

Tablet 346: “…I have sent you…pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants…”.

The unwanted notes and letters of a small group of soldiers and their families in a far-flung outpost of empire have provided a unique view of Roman daily life and preoccupations.

I have retrieved my shopping list from the bin, signed it and put it on my desk with dozens of other notes, papers and cuttings. Later I will bury them all in the garden.  That will be my contribution to history.

7 Responses to “Writing rubbish”

  1. And here was me expecting a variation on the old Tim Vine “parking fine” joke…

    • To save everyone else from googling it:

      “You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen, it said ‘Parking Fine.’ So that was nice.” (Tim Vine)

      Thanks Drew. Serves me right for writing an educational post about recently discovered treasures of ancient history.

      • Even the best of educators can’t be held liable for the poor quality of their pupils… :¬)

  2. 4 Mike S

    …or the one about one of the tablets being an ancient shoe repair ticket for the re-soling of a pair of leather sandals.
    They managed to trace the direct descendants of the shoe repairer, who amazingly were still in the same line of business.
    When shown the 2000 year old tablet, they of course replied…
    “They’ll be ready on Thursday”.

  3. 6 Steve M

    That’s a reminder to me. I need to finish listening to the “A history of the world in a 100 objects” podcasts (23 down, 79 to go).

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