The Story of the Bloomberg Writing Tablets

A series of remarkable archaeological discoveries on the site of Bloomberg’s new European Headquarters in the heart of the City of London have given an insight into life 2000 years ago. NextShoot was privileged to be asked to produce a film documenting the preservation and deciphering of Roman writing tablets and the discovery of the voices of the first Londoners.

The story of the Bloomberg writing tablets began almost 2000 years ago with the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD. The growth of a trading center on the site of what is now the City of London is well known but the discovery of hundreds of writing tablets showing everything from legal and financial agreements, children practicing their alphabets and even the very first mention of ‘Londinium’ is one of the most significant discoveries of recent years and reveals an early city built on trade and communication.

Writing tablets would be hewn from larger pieces of wood recycled from huge wine casks. An ident would be chiselled into these and filled with a thin layer of wax blackened with charcoal. Normally, two tablets would be tied together with a leather string forming a hinge to create a convenient and portable book. We filmed an ancient woodwork specialist as he replicated the process.

Using a stylus, the writer would scrape through the wax, revealing the lighter wood below. The very nature of scraping letters into wax meant they used a shorthand called ‘cursive latin’. The wax has long since decayed but the wood, preserved in the subterranean moisture of what was once the River Walbrook, still shows evidence of the scratches made almost two millennia ago.

We filmed with Latin expert, Dr. Roger Tomlin, following the remarkable process of deciphering these frail historical artefacts, piecing together the evidence from specialised photographs, his knowledge of cursive Latin and his encyclopedic grasp of Roman history.

The archaeological dig was undertaken by the Museum of London Archaeology. We were able to interview their expert conservators and film the painstaking work that is undertaken to preserve not only the writing tablets but all of the artefacts discovered on the Bloomberg site.

We created a series of graphics to illustrate the process of discovering and deciphering the writing on the tablets. Overlaying the tablet with a highlighted layer to reveal the pertinent words, we then used a morphing technique to transform the cursive scrawl into a recognisable latin alphabet.

In addition to the finished film, we were commissioned to create a multi-screen display which was in Bloomberg’s offices in London during and after the press launch. Our work, distributed to media organisations as part of an electronic press kit, was featured internationally - online and on television, including the BBC 10 o’clock News.

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