The invisible messages ARCHAEOLOGY NEWSFLASH NO. 528a
Do you like reading old letters? I mean, VERY, VERY OLD?
(By the way, I hope you’re loving some of the varied stuff
at my website.)
As a boy I used to write letters to my friends with what
we were pleased to call “invisible ink”. We pretended we
were spies, or some such thing, smuggling messages to each
It was fun, because were invisible, all right! Anyone else
who might intercept the letter could look at it closely,
but see nothing more than a blank page.
You may ask, how did we crack the secret message… making
it visible again?
Or perhaps you’ve already guessed. The key was in the
writing of the letter, We first dipped our pens in lemon
juice, which was our only “ink”. And as the lemon juice
dried, the writing was totally invisible on the page.
When one of us received such a letter, all we had to do
was place it near the heat of a flame and hey presto!
The invisible words would turn brown.
As far as I know, that’s about as close as any of us got
to becoming a secret agent!
But it was fun, anyway.
SECRETS IN SOME OLD LETTERS
Speaking of letters, the other day I was going through some
old time-browned papers belonging to my mother when she was
a child. Boy, was it interesting!
But this morning this one jumped up at me – quite a bit
older. And I thought you’d enjoy it. It’s 1,599 years old!
That’s right, it was written in the year 404. (No, not by
my mother – but by a ship’s passenger to someone back home.
As it happened, his boat was crossing the Mediterranean Sea,
when it was struck by a storm. He was suspicious, he says,
about the competence of the crew, then goes on:
“The men groaned, the women shrieked, everybody called upon
God, cried aloud, remembered their dear ones. Only Amarantus
[the captain] was in good spirits, thinking he was going to
get out of paying his creditors…
“I noticed that the soldiers [a large group of the passengers
were members of an Arab cavalry unit] had all drawn their
I asked why and learned that they preferred to belch up their
souls to the open air, on the deck, rather than
gurgle them up to the sea…
“Then someone called out that all who had any gold should hang
it around their neck. Those who had, did so, both gold and
anything else of the value of gold. The women not only put on
their jewellery but handed out pieces of string to any who
“This is a time-honoured practice, and the reason for it is
this: you must provide the corpse of someone lost at sea with
the money to pay for a funeral so that whoever recovers it,
profiting by it, won’t mind giving it a little attention….
“The ship was rushing along under full canvas because we
couldn’t shorten sail. Time and again we laid hands on the
lines but gave up because they were jammed in the blocks.
“And secretly we began to be equally afraid that, even if we
escaped from the raging sea, we would be approaching land in
the dead of night in this helpless condition. Day broke before
this happened, and we saw the sun – and never with greater
“As the heat of day came on, the wind moderated, and, with the
wetness out of the ropes, we were able to use them and handle
sail. To replace with a stormsail was impossible – it was in
the pawn shop.
“We took the sail in like the folds of a tunic, and within
four hours, we, who had been expecting death, find ourselves
disembarking in a remote deserted spot with not a town nor farm
nearby for fifteen miles around.
“The ship was tossing in the open roads (for the spot was no
harbour), held by one anchor – the second anchor had been sold,
and Mr Amarantus did not own a third. When we touched beloved
land, we embraced it like a living mother.”
Talk about cash problems in our day! Even back then, you see,
it was tough trying to keep a business afloat – let alone in
a storm! Pawnbrokers, creditors, having to sell an anchor to
keep going. Was it King Solomon who said, “There’s nothing new
under the sun”?
WRITING WAS COMMON
I have already mentioned this to you in a previous newsletter,
but it is wortrh repeating briefly.
In Northumberland, Britain’s ancient border country,
archaeologists have discovered some correspondence, the faint
traces of personal letters left behind by the Roman soldiers
unlucky enough to patrol this bleak landscape nearly 2,000
years ago. These men werestationed at Vindolanda fort, just
south of Hadrian’s Wall. The time was 115 AD.
One letter reads: “I have sent you … pairs of socks from Sattua,
two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants.
Another contains an invitation from a woman, Flavia Severa,
presumably the wife of a senior soldier, to another.
Another fragment, covered with excerpts from the Poet Virgil,
seems to be a writing exercise scrawled by a child.
In fact, even as early as 4,000 years ago, writing was fairly
common among the people.
For example, we find among the letters that have survived in
great abundance from those ancient times:
• The letter of a Babylonian woman to her husband in his
travels, in which, after telling him that the little
ones are well, she asks advice on some trivial matter.
• The letter of a son to his father, in which he informs
him that so-and-so has mortally offended him, that he
would beat up the offender, but would like to ask his
father’s advice first.
• The letter in which a son urges his father to send at
last the long-promised money, offering the insolent
inducement that then he will pray for his father again.
This points also to a well-organised system of communication
by letter and of a postal system.
Do you grasp that? We are talking about 4,000 years ago – a
time that we have been told people were still fairly primitive!
But now we discover they had an organized postal system.
Well, , if you haven’t read Dead Men’s Secrets yet,
you’re really missing the boat! It’s packed with fascinating
true stories. This amazing book of facts shows how people long,
long ago did things just like you and I do today.
So don’t lose out. Come to http://www.beforeus.com
Enjoy a really happy and re-invigorating holiday season.
With best wishes
DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS?
Please email me your questions. I am here to help
you with any questions on ancient mysteries. Just
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
International explorer, archaeologist and author
Jonathan Gray has traveled the world to gather data
on ancient mysteries. He has penetrated some largely
unexplored areas, including parts of the Amazon
headwaters. The author has also led expeditions to
the bottom of the sea and to remote mountain and
desert regions of the world. He lectures internationally.