Lead Scroll found at East Farleigh Roman Villa

A small lead scroll, measuring about 6 cm long, was found during the 2009 season at the East Farleigh Roman Site:

It was discovered in the demolition layer in the NW corner of the 3rd/4th Century AD building five. We believe that due to the numerous ovens and quern stones found in the building that it was later reused as a kitchen or bakery, however the building probably started life in the mid-third century as a 'Romano-Celtic' style temple.

The scroll was then handed over to Dana Goodburn-Brown of Conservation Science Investigations (CSI) which is based in Sittingbourne. An attempt was made to read the fragile scroll without unrolling it by using a technique called neutron computed tomography imaging at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland but the resolution was not sufficient to discern any writing on it:

It was therefore necessary to unroll the scroll, and it was then possible to enlarge some of the letters under a scanning electron microscope:

In June 2012, 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 was able to decipher the text and prepare a measured drawing of the inscription:

The scroll is believed to date from the 3rd (or possibly 4th) Century AD and is probably a defixio or “curse tablet”.

The text consists of personal names written in capitals in two columns. The scribe has used some encipherment by writing a few of the names backwards or upside down, possibly to invoke “sympathetic magic” to make life especially difficult or perverse for those individuals.

There are seven names in each column - Latin names SACRATUS, CONSTITUT[US], CONSTAN[...] and MEMORIA[NUS], Celtic names [ATR]ECTUS and ATIDENUS (written ATINED[US]), and eight others which are incomplete.

It is possible that the names listed were of people who lived at the site and, since the Romans were the first inhabitants of England who could read and write, they represent the earliest inhabitants of East Farleigh that we may ever be able to put a name to.

From the end of August 2012, Dana Goodburn-Brown will carry out further conservation work on the scroll. It is hoped that this will result in more letters becoming visible. Visitors to CSI will be able to see work in progress during occasional open days between September and December, and it may be possible to put the scroll on public display at the end of the year.

The conservation and investigation of the scroll have been funded by a Kent Archaeological Society grant.