Unclean slate
January 14, 2010 12:48 PM   Subscribe

An expert in Elizabethan handwriting is attempting to decipher the inscriptions on a 400-year-old slate tablet discovered by archaeologists working at Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. Want to take a crack at it yourself? First, you're going to want to take English Handwriting, 1500-1700: An Online Course. Then, keep your skills sharp with a daily dose of Early Modern Paleography. (This week's images will be well known to a certain MeFite.)
posted by Horace Rumpole (49 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm gonna get these out of the way, so we can move on:

1: I bet it says "LOL BUTTS."


2: handwriting expert: Be sure to drink your Ovaltine? god damn it.
posted by shmegegge at 12:51 PM on January 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


All these lands are yours except Detroit. Attempt no landings there.
posted by mpbx at 12:55 PM on January 14, 2010 [17 favorites]


Oh wow! Thank you for linking me to that course. I've been dreading having to learn this information for my possible future manuscript work. THANK YOU!

... And wow, that tablet would haunt my dreams were I trying to decipher it.
posted by strixus at 12:56 PM on January 14, 2010


"Gammon of the finest sorte" and a pic of a guy. First line looks like nonsense (Algonquin?), or a long string of abbreviations and a date of 1608.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:59 PM on January 14, 2010


I can read "OF THE FINEST SORT" pretty clearly. I'll just assume the author was referring to "whores".
posted by Pastabagel at 12:59 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Deare Forumme: Verily, I thought notte that such Experiences woulde ever happen to Yr Humble Narrator...
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:01 PM on January 14, 2010 [34 favorites]


It reminds me of those pads of paper near pen sales counters, where people can test how the pens write. I'd imagine that the real message wasn't thrown in the well, but put somewhere more important. That was just to make sure the inscription tool was working.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:02 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


D'oh! Obviously, I meant "ƒuch Experienceƒ."
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:03 PM on January 14, 2010


D'oh! Obviously, I meant "ƒuch Experienceƒ."

AAAAAAGH!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:08 PM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also, a long 's' doesn't go there.
posted by muddgirl at 1:11 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


D'oh! Obviously, I meant "ƒuch Experienceƒ."

AAAAAAGH!


Man, don't get your knickers in a twiſt about ſuch ſmall things.
posted by Sova at 1:12 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Buggre Alle this for a Larke. I amme sick to mye hart of farminge. Master Smith is no Gentlemann except wifh his "princess", and Captian Wingfielde noe more than a tighte fisted Southwarke Knobbesticke. I telle you, Ennyone with half an oz. of Sense shoulde bee back on the bankes of the Thames gallivanting with ladies of easie pleasure, an nott Stucke here alle the livelong daie inn this mowldey olde Newe Worlde.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:17 PM on January 14, 2010 [36 favorites]


I think whoever wrote on this slate was v̴͉i͏̢҉̼̥̥͔̲̞s̵̗̺̼̲̝͓̀i̴̲̘͝t̺͈̣̳̠ȩ̡̠̣̲̲̗̱ḏ̨̳͉̞̕ ̢͎̬͘b̴҉̳̜̤͓̥̭y̲̝̖̭͓̖̕͘ ̵̧̫̞̦̮͜ḩ̴̯̲̬̩͙̦̤͕é̤̦̙̩̯̀ ͏̬̹͕̺̫͓̗̙w̪͇͙͉̲̕h͢͏̪̫̥̹̤ọ̴ ̸͇̻̕ẁ̰̹̕͞a̯̬̺͙̯̝̺̪͡͞i̛̼t͏̵̨̯ş̵̰̣͓̠͞ͅ ̵̼̘̮̰͓͇ͅb͙̥ḛ̞h̴͕̬̯̞̣̣̬̠́í̸͔͔͕͍̻̬ṉ̝̟̦̙d̲̗͟ ͕̥͉t͓̖̮̭̖̬̫̻h͙̜̘̘e̵̠͢ ͇̘͝͝w̨̲͈̜̠̤̪̕͞a̮͕̟̜̯̬͝l̛̯̺̹̦͎̖̻l̞̼̀s҉͖̩
posted by Pastabagel at 1:19 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Talk about your buried ledes.... You didn't mention that the Jamestown tablet was apparently found...
[wait for it]
...IN OUTER-SPACE!
judging by the nasa.gov link, anyways.


This is actually the first piece of actual evidence in support of the longstanding claim that space travel was known to certain Native American tribes, who (apparently) demonstrated their capabilities to the first inhabitants of Jamestown, before realizing that the White Man, for all their fancy ships, had no idea how to really get around. At that point, the Prime Directive caused all mention of space travel to be avoided by the Natives, though certain other technologies (such as the potato and corn) were allowed to be transferred to the newcomers. Later, one Joseph Smith claimed to have found evidence of the Naive American space program, but (having realized that the Native's space-craft were tools of the devil) set about creating his own, divinely-inspired space craft. The completed model was not fully functional, since it was built to contain an inordinately high number of passengers. In fact, it took only two flights - the first to Nauvoo, IL, where it crash landed, requiring many years of repair work, and the second to the current site of the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City. the golden disks with the repair and operation instructions for the space vehicle sits to this day in the secret confines of the temple. Leaders of the LDS church have been attempting to repair and improve the craft since about 1900, but have had little luck since the Church abandoned the secret masonic rituals important for fueling the ship's dogma-drive. Certain rogue factions of the church have apparently been trying to contact the Anasazi, who apparently took off into space some thousand years ago, in order to learn space-flight technologies to incorporate into the Mormon ship. While most senior members of the LDS church disapprove of using such technologies, others believe that the Native space technology was actually taught to them by Jesus himself, who flew in such a vehicle to the New World following the Resurrection. The pro-Native technologies faction believes that all haste must be made, since the Thetans are expected to arrive any day now, and we must be prepared to fight for the fate of this secret spiritual battlefield, Earth.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:19 PM on January 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


Cthulu ftagn.
posted by pentagoet at 1:22 PM on January 14, 2010


There's a pretty clear fleur-de-lis and human figure (turned 90 CCW) at the bottom left of the tablet.

I believe it says A Minion Of the Finest Sorte. This is a mockup for flyers for someone advertising their services as an assistant witch and general Gal Fryeday.
posted by Babblesort at 1:26 PM on January 14, 2010


ƒtairs! We haue found ƒtairs!
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:31 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Enhanƒe!
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:34 PM on January 14, 2010 [21 favorites]


"For ye goode time, call Pocahontas: three big smoke puffs, two small, one big, seven small, two big, wait a while, then five big. Twenty blankets, same as in village"
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:35 PM on January 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


I visited Jamestown this past summer, and learned that the original fort at Jamestown has only been discovered about 10 years ago. Considering it was there in the ground for hundreds of years, and we knew essentially where it was, I think that's pretty amazing. Aparently we thought it was further out beneath the James river, but it was recently discovered to mostly be up on the shore of the river. That's why excavation only started recently, and artifacts like this are just now turning up.

More here.
posted by jermsplan at 1:41 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Too late for the 100,00th Mefite, but "A Minon of the Finest Sorte" would make a unique screen name.
posted by Cranberry at 1:42 PM on January 14, 2010


Not too late. Jamaro, winner of the 100,000th spot, mentioned just the other day that he is waiting for a meetup to have a group decision on the naming of Mr. 100,000.
posted by Babblesort at 1:44 PM on January 14, 2010


"A Minon of the Finest Sorte"

A filing demon?
posted by The Whelk at 1:45 PM on January 14, 2010


The final line before the the slate breaks off is somewhat puzzling..

"My God, it'ƒ full of ƒtarƒ!"
posted by codswallop at 1:48 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: ftarf
posted by shmegegge at 1:49 PM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Many of the letter forms are different from the forms used today. You need special training to understand them," Wolfe said.

I didn't need any special training to understand this.
posted by Kabanos at 1:56 PM on January 14, 2010



I didn't need any special training to understand this.


Ferth A Goode tyme, vyst upon Master Wainswyrte,
posted by The Whelk at 1:59 PM on January 14, 2010


18 Janiuere, 1610

We fearch for deere or other Game and alwayes
there is nothing. Tiggs believef our luck will change.
Likewife we muft also believe or elfe in the name of
the Lorde take charge of the Knowledge that we are
all dead men.

20 Janiuere, 1610

More fnow. Bitter cold. This is a terrible Place we
have stumbled on. It has been a Week fince we haue
fpied one living thing. Were it not for the ftorm we
would have abandoned it. Verm was plagued by
many bad Dreames last night.

21 Janiuere, 1610

The ftorm will not break. Verm went out to hunt but
returned within the houre. The Wind makes a wicked
found in the Woods. Ftrange as it muft feem, Tiggs,
Verm, and I take comfort in the found. I fear much
more the filence here. Verm tellf me he dreamt of
Bones last night. I dreame of the Sunne.

22 Janiuere, 1610

We are dying. No food. No fhelter. Tiggs dreamt he
faw all fnow about us turn Red with blood.
And then the last entry:
23 Janiuere, 1610

Ftaires! We haue found ftaires!
posted by Rhaomi at 2:03 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I pretty much hated that book, but I did like that bit.
posted by Artw at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2010


Also it's clearly either early buzz for the Apple slate or it says "HELP, I AM TRAPPED IN THE 17th CENTURY. PLEASE SEND TIME TRAVELING NAVY SEALS ON HORSEBACK."
posted by Artw at 2:06 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is the stairs a reference too?
posted by Sova at 2:08 PM on January 14, 2010


HELP, I AM TRAPPED IN AN INTERNET THREAD IN THE EARLY 21ST CENTURY! FUTURE READERS, PLEASE SEND TIME TRAVELING WUXIA FIGHTERS ON FLYING ROBOHORSEBACK
posted by shii at 2:11 PM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sova - House of Leaves. Oops, sorry, I meant House of Leaves.
posted by Artw at 2:12 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


is there a reason why we can't actually see the slate properly ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:47 PM on January 14, 2010


Verily. Look no further than ye olde weenye, and the fact that they found this thing in a well. Apparently kids didn't have proper mattresses to stuff such things under, and/or a "clear recent history" button.
posted by turducken at 3:52 PM on January 14, 2010


is there a reason why we can't actually see the slate properly ?

Not sure what you mean, ss, but the "attempting to decipher" link has a nice big image of it, with and without enhancement.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:01 PM on January 14, 2010


I visited Jamestown this past summer, and learned that the original fort at Jamestown has only been discovered about 10 years ago. Considering it was there in the ground for hundreds of years, and we thought we knew essentially where it was, I think that's pretty amazing. Aparently we thought it was further out beneath the James river, but it was recently discovered to mostly be up on the shore of the river.

I recall a fourth grade field trip or so, having grown up about two and a half hours away, and of arriving at Jamestown only to be told that it was underwater. Talk about disappointment. The fact that someone decided not to take the location for granted and resulted in the re-discovery of the fort is one of the niftiest archaeological discoveries I've lived to hear about in my life.

With that said, the last time I tried to visit, I got completely lost and couldn't find the re-discovered fort. Good thing I didn't go into archaeology.

The slate is pretty cool. I see the fellow on the left side, plus the head of someone not far to the "right" of him (if you turn it 90 degrees). There also appears to be another figure, this one inverted on the right side, who may or may not be an Indian. It's great to see the random scratches, some meaningful, others apparently erratic of someone who lived over 400 years ago.
posted by Atreides at 4:46 PM on January 14, 2010


You need special training to understand them," Wolfe said.

Not that much special training - just lots of practice. You could probably learn it all in a day-long workshop, and then you just get better with practice. (I've forgotten a lot of my secretary hand from hanging out in the italic late 17th century).

Only maybe I shouldn't admit that, because they let me do an entire grad course in English paleography...
posted by jb at 4:59 PM on January 14, 2010


the tablet probably belongs into this collection

Ye olde outhoufe fcribblingf...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:05 PM on January 14, 2010


I have a functional spec due by next week. I just might deliver it in an unorthodox manner. Thanks for this, great find.
posted by mattoxic at 6:12 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


For all you people making the long s's, they are only supposed to occur at the start or in the middle of words; a regular s always goes at the end.
posted by aesacus at 7:17 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was an early modern paleographer but I'm better now. I can see Abraham and books too, and what looks like a woman's name Sibill Trely[..s] but as I don't know the context that could be complete nonsense. I hope for their sake the weirder symbols are not early modern shorthand. I've tried deciphering that and made-up Indian alphabet symbols would probably be preferable.
posted by Flitcraft at 7:39 PM on January 14, 2010


[Of course if it's Mistress Trelyss, then they've discovered the first ever game of Mornington Crescent, which completely explains why nobody can decipher it.]
posted by Flitcraft at 7:45 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure there's much to be gleaned from these scribbles, but if anyone can make sense of them, Heather Wolfe can.

Henry Woudhuysen wrote an interesting article on Writing-Tables and Table-Books discussing, inter alia, the use of slate tablets in this period. There is another documented example of an English explorer taking a writing-tablet with him on a voyage to America: 'When the surveyor and painter Thomas Bavin received his instructions for one of the voyages associated with Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1582, he was told to equip himself with a pair of writing-tables, as well as various scientific items, paper, ink, pens, colours and a stone with which to grind them.' We don't know what material Bavin's writing-tables were made of (possibly some sort of waxed card, judging by other surviving examples), but they might well have looked something like the Jamestown tablet. It's not an 'American Rosetta Stone' but it's still an exciting find.
posted by verstegan at 3:28 AM on January 15, 2010


Oh yeah, that's gonna be some exiting reading, let me tell you. If there's one thing Puritans are known for, it's their scandalous diaries...
4:00 - Got up, prayed.
4:10 - Fetched water, prayed.
4:12 - Cleaned my dirty, shameful flesh. Prayed.
...
8:00 - Church.
...
11:04 - Chastised young man for whistling. Prayed for his soul.
...
3:30 - Supper. Prayed, then ate, then prayed again just to let the Lord know we weren't just doing it for the food.
...
6:00 - Prayer, then sleep.
7:00 - Awoken by the sounds of the devil. Prayed until my eyes could stay open no longer.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:10 AM on January 15, 2010


Now where did that "C" go?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:11 AM on January 15, 2010


The Virginia Colonists were not particularly religious. The Puritans were further north.
posted by absalom at 5:16 AM on January 15, 2010


The Weekly World News had a mind-blowing story about crude, early Native-American photography (some process that used tree bark and pitch). Apparently archeologists found a photograph of Pocahontas. And get this--SHE WAS UGLY AS SIN! Now that's a discovery.
posted by Man-Thing at 7:30 AM on January 15, 2010


I was wondering about the use of the long s and short s -- thanks for clarifying, aesacus. Now I'll watch to see if any secretaries break the rule.
posted by jb at 4:21 PM on January 17, 2010


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