Thursday, June 18, 2009
Curious Inscribed Slate of 1609 era Discovered at Jamestown in 2009
On June 8, 2009, the National Geographic news service reported that archaeologists excavating a well in Jamestown, Virginia, have found an inscribed slate tablet dating back to around 1609. The slate is etched on both sides with caricatures of people, flora, and fauna, and features enigmatic words and numbers begging for decipherment. The slate measures approximately 5” x 8” inches.
The slate was uncovered down a well at James’ Fort. It is known that Captain John Smith dug a well for the settlement in 1609. By 1611 the well’s water went bad and settlers filled it in with trash. This slate was found below the level of general trash, and among a layer that includes early trade trinkets, so it may have been accidentally dropped in, or tossed in to evade discovery. The slate, now being studied closely, is perhaps the earliest known graffiti record of early English Colonists. (There are earlier inscribed stones in the Americas conventionally described as either native, or forgeries, but in some key instances, may be remnants of early arrivals on the continent by Norsemen, Vikings, Irish, Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Chinese. See links below.)
The curious slate tablet is etched with the words:
"A MINON OF THE FINEST SORTE."
Above this sentence are the letters and numbers:
"EL NEV FSH HTLBMS 508," and strange symbols that have, so far, resisted interpretation.
"Minon" is, no doubt, intended as "minion" and can mean anything from "follower," to "sycophant," to "ass-kisser," which might make the slate a critique of a camp officer. Complicating that theory is the fact that minion also referred to a type of cannon (weapon) that was used at Jamestown. Rough sketches on the slate show several flower blossoms and birds that may be attempts to represent native eagles, songbirds, and owls.
A cartoon-like image of a settler smoking a pipe adds humor and a contemporary activity. An image of a palmetto tree, not native to Virginia at that time --- but widely seen in the Caribbean and more southern areas of North America --- is something a settler might have seen on the way to Jamestown, which often involved a loopy southern route. Another possibility is that the artist of the slate was one of the survivors of the Sea Venture shipwreck. The slate also has images of heraldic lions rampant, as seen in the Arms of England.
Archaeologists relate that slates such as these were used and reused, and while the pencil-like sketch’s surface materials are long gone, the scratches remain, and, as a result, the slate today carries multiple overlapping images. In books and manuscripts such an effect is called a palimpsest. The point is, we are not looking at a single message, but many records overlaid upon each other. The scientists studying the slate hope to use CT-scan technology to trace the layering and separate out the superimposed images via software.
By Robert Sean Brazil, June 18, 2009
PS- If you are interested in the idea that there may be evidence of Pre-Columbian visitors to the Americas see the following web-pages for starters: