Periodically, a long lost letter is found and belatedly delivered to the addressee who is taken by surprise. Pleasantly, it is hoped. (Your friend and mine, Marc Kuhn, wrote a novel based upon such an occurrence. It’s worth your reading time.)
A few weeks ago, residents of London were startled by a discovery of 400 examples of such correspondence. Sadly, none of it could be forwarded because all potential receivers were deceased. How unfortunate. But not unexpected because the mail was dated: January 8, 57 —not 1957, but A. D. 57! It was an example of London’s first mail, as well as “Britain’s oldest dated hand-written document.”
To give this discovery some historical context, here is a brief —hopefully somewhat accurate— time line. London was founded after the Romans invaded Britain around A. D. 43. A settlement was erected on the site of future London. A Celtic invasion from the North, led by Queen Boudicca, leveled and burned everything. It was rebuilt and remains to this day.
Returning to our story, London, or as it was known then, “Londinium”, was not a world commercial center as it is today. But it was moving in that direction. The documents were concerned with “beer deliveries, food orders, and legal rulings.” Another discovery was an IOU. Communications were not written on paper. Messages were conveyed on wooden tablets coated in wax. They were approximately the size of a large postcard —for those of you familiar with that quaint form of communication. Over time, a unique combination of mud and water in the area preserved the wood although the wax vanished. However, the writing or etching was carved into the wood and it can still be read.
Inhabitants of that distant past could not imagine the London of today. Its size would be beyond belief, as would the Tower of London, the Bridge of the city, and, as tourists can attest, The Eye. But citizens of London today would be equally surprised that a postal delivery addressed “In London, to Mogontius” would arrive just as planned. Even if it was opened over 2,000 years later.