Conserving a wooden writing-tablet from Vindolanda

This document, written in ink on a thin sheet of wood, is part of a group found near Hadrian's Wall. The letter is an invitation to Sulpicia Lepidina, a commander's wife, to a birthday party.

Originally preserved by the wet conditions, the wooden tablet was dried out soon after excavation. It is in a very fragile condition, broken into several large and small pieces with some cracks. Repairs were carried out by the application of small spots of adhesive along the breaks and cracks.

Wood is very susceptible to changes in the environment: it can expand and contract as the humidity rises or falls. As the wood of this tablet is very thin, it is particularly vulnerable. A method of mounting was devised to enable the delicate document some freedom of movement. Small tabs of a fine Japanese paper were secured along the edges of the wood with an adhesive. The loose end of these paper tabs was pinned into position to mount the fragments for display. The tablet is very light in weight and this method of mounting also helps ensure its safety. The environment in the showcase is carefully monitored and controlled to minimise any changes in the humidity. Light levels are maintained at a low level to prevent the ink from fading.

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