Bern zinc tablet

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The Bern zinc tablet (also Gobannus tablet) was found in the 1980s in Bern. It is inscribed with an apparently Gaulish inscription, consisting of the four words, each on its own line, the letter formed by little dots impressed onto the metal:

ΔΟΒΝΟΡΗΔΟ ΓΟΒΑΝΟ ΒΡΕΝΟΔΩΡ ΝΑΝΤΑΡΩΡ (Dobnoredo Gobano Brenodor Nantaror)

The dedication is to Gobannus, a Gallo-Roman god, the name simply meaning "the Smith". Brenodor is probably a placename, Brenno-duro- "town of Brennus, c.f. Salodurum > Solothurn, Vitudurum > Winterthur, Gaulish -duron "town" deriving from PIE dhur- "door".

Nantaror may refer to the Aare valley (containing as first element nanto- "deep valley with a stream/river"), and Dobnoredo seems to be an epitheton of Gobano, maybe composed of dubno- "world" (Old Irish dumhan (Modern Irish domhan, c.f. Dumnorix, Donald (Gaelic Domhnall) and rēdo- "travel" (Old Irish riad), or rēdā "chariot" i.e. "world-traveller" or "world-charioteer", so that the inscription may mean approximately "to Gobannus, the world-traveller, dedicated by the people of Brennoduron in the Arura valley".

Since the inscription consists of four proper names, it cannot straightforwardly be considered in the Gaulish language. The Datives in -o may be either Gaulish or Latin. Use of the Greek alphabet however seems to suggest that when the tablet was inscribed, Roman influence was not yet overwhelming, and Gaulish probably still in wide use. That the tablet does date to Roman Gaul is suggested by the final Ρ of ΝΑΝΤΑΡΩΡ: it was at first written as a Latin R, the additional stroke having been removed again as a scribal error. Mixing of Greek and Latin letters is also attested from a number of Gallo-Roman coins.

The tablet is made of zinc, and on grounds of this it was considered a forgery for some time, since production of zinc is unattested in this region prior to the 16th century. The alloy however turned out to be different from modern zinc, containing lead and iron as well as traces of copper, tin and cadmium (Rehren 1996). It was concluded that the zinc of this tablet was collected from a furnace, where the metal is known to have aggregated, Strabo calling it pseudoarguros "mock silver" (in 1546, Georg Agricola re-discovered that a white metal could be condensed and scraped off the walls of a furnace when zinc ores were smelted), but it is believed that it was usually thrown away as worthless. Since the tablet is dedicated to the god of the smiths, it is not unlikely that such zinc remnants scraped from a furnace were collected by smiths and considered particularly smithcraft-related.

References[edit]

  • Rehren Th. (1996) A Roman zinc tablet from Bern, Switzerland: Reconstruction of the Manufacture, in Archaeometry 94, The Proceedings of the 29th International Symposium on Archaeometry, Eds S. Demirci et al., Ankara, 35-45.

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