The Vindolanda Tablets are thin, postcard-sized wooden sheets which were folded in half to make two ‘pages’ and then strung together into a sort of book. They were used as writing paper and sent out like modern mail across Roman Britain. Archaeologists found hundreds of these little tablets at the Vindolanda site and they have helped us to learn about life in Roman Britain.
Here’s an activity to make your own version of the Vindolanda tablets. When you’re finished you can even send them in the mail like postcards! It’s a great hands-on activity that kids will love to do, and also great for helping kids imagine themselves as people living in the past and writing letters, just like the Romans did!
For the Tablets:
For the Ink:
If you’re short on time or supplies, you can use cardboard instead of wood, and pens or paint instead of homemade ink. Whichever method you use, it’s still fun, so let’s get cracking!
Most craft stores and some home/hardware stores have balsa wood, birch plywood, or other thin wood sold in sheets. These craft woods can be cut with scissors if you are careful, or an adult can use an Exacto knife to make small panels for your postcards.
Find some scraps of dry wood, cardboard, or paper. Burn these to generate ash and carbonized wood. You can use tweezers to hold your little scraps over an open candle flame for maximum (supervised) excitement.
Carefully scrape the powders into containers (ours were little old jam jars with lids). Using a toothpick or skewer to stir the mixture, add water a drop or two at a time to make a dark black paint-like liquid. You only need a couple teaspoonfuls to have plenty for your postcards.
This step is important – add .25 or .5 teaspoons of school glue or any craft glue to your paint. This keeps the charcoal powder from brushing off your postcard after the paint dries.
Fun Fact: The Romans would have mixed their charcoal with sticky tree sap to make it into ink.
Have a look at the Roman alphabet or just use the language you speak at home to write a message. Learn about the types of things Vindolanda residents wrote about: attackers, birthday parties, food, the weather …. underwear……..
Write your own postcards. You can use single sheets or you can punch holes in them and string them together like the Romans did. You can pencil in your message first if you’d like, then go over the letters with your homemade paint. Allow the panels to dry completely! If you buy extra postage, you can put these in an envelope and mail them to someone, just like a resident of Vindolanda or anywhere in the Roman Empire!
We hope you enjoy this project as much as we did – Evelyn (age 10) and her mom, Susan
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