Mysterious 400 year-old slate tablet gets a closer look at MCI


Jamestown Slate Tablet
MCI Director Dr. Robert Koestler, Mel Wachowiak (Senior Conservator), Jeff Speakman (Head of Technical Studies), and Dr. William Kelso (Historic Jamestowne Director Research & Interpretation) discuss upcoming analysis of the slate while Michael Lavin (Historic Jamestowne) cleans the surface. Photo: Charles Durfor

Staff at the Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) recently helped Jamestown researchers decipher inscriptions from a unique stone tablet. The slate tablet, about 8x10 inches, dates from the earliest days of Jamestown. The tablet was found in an ongoing excavation of a well and so can be dated to about 1610. The inscribed surfaces have writing as well as pictures of birds and trees, and still indecipherable markings.

Using a new method called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), MCI staff created a digital surrogate of the tablet’s two surfaces. RTI is a non-contact way to digitize the surface qualities and apply non-destructive computational methods of enhancement. RTI allows the viewer to control the lighting angle and intensity in an intuitive and interactive way. One of the tremendous advantages to RTI is that it allows the user of the software to quickly become self-guided.

Soon after processing images, the Jamestown staff agreed that they had already seen more than was possible by other methods. MCI staff will process all the data for the Jamestown researchers and prepare it for them to assess back at their museum.

For more on the discovery:

Jamestown Slate Gallery

Jamestown Slate RTI Detail Images

Jamestown Slate RTI Sequence