finding and conserving | reading and imaging

Curses Recovered: finding and conserving

Although the largest groups of curse tablets from Britain (Bath and Uley) have been found during archaeological excavations, most of the individual or small groups of finds have been made by metal-detectorists. Many detectorists have reported the findspot and have generously made tablets available for study. However some tablets that have come to light through the antiquities market (see No Provenance A and No Provenance B)lack any kind of contextual information. Even basic information on the findspot is useful both for interpreting the tablet itself and for enhancing the information that the tablet can provide. The discovery of a tablet may also give a clue to the existence of a temple (see Creating the curse - plumbing the depths). From finds associated with a tablet we might be able to date it more closely, given that the script can only give a very broad dating (see Curses and cursive - scripts), or perhaps reconstruct some of the rituals that took place alongside the preparation of curses.

Time has not been kind to curses. The surface of the lead has often oxidised, corroded and fissured. Usually the ends of the folded sheet and the outer surfaces are worst affected, but the poor condition of the main written surfaces can often make the curse illegible. The tablets are difficult to unfold or unroll without causing irreversible damage to the brittle, corroded metal. As the corrosion products are toxic and can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, curse tablets retain a noxious power. Without conservation and storage in an appropriate, stable environment, the condition of tablets is also likely to deteriorate further. The tablets from Lydney and Caerleon, found respectively in the early 19th and 20th centuries, are both now unreadable, corroded by the gases given off in the oaklined drawers in which they have been kept.

Their size and condition means that tablets may not be recognised for what they are. The CSAD is happy to advise with the identification of possible curse tablets and similar artefacts, for example lead tags and seals.

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