The Portable Antiquities Scheme have recently recorded a new object from Lincolnshire with that most interesting of things – an inscribed personal name. The object in question is not actually a recent find, but has only recently come to light for recording – a perfect example not only of what important objects might still be lurking in private collections, but also the value of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a vehicle for bringing such items to scholarly attention.

Discovered at Quadring on the western edge of the fens, the item is a whetstone with a deep groove along one face, indicating that it had some active use before being lost or discarded. At some point during its life, an inscription was added along one long edge.

Quadring whetstone, showing groove from blade sharpening. Image courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme
Quadring whetstone inscription. Image courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme

The inscription, written in letters of varying size and uneven spacing, suggesting that the author was not entirely confident in forming them, has been examined by Dr Roger Tomlin of the University of Oxford, and read as:


This probably translates as ‘Mandacus(?), son of Mattavus’. Both names are of Celtic derivation, though as is to be expected in such cases we can say little more about these two individuals, and can even only speculate regarding their relative ages. Mandacus may have been a child practicing writing his name or an adult who was not fully literate. The question of literacy levels in rural Roman Britain is an interesting subject, but a very difficult one to conclusively pronounce on. Certainly, such ‘unofficial’ inscriptions are rare outside of towns and military zones. The discovery of a pot with part of a Roman alphabet on it at Sleaford (approximately 10 miles to the northwest of Quadring) in 2015 is, however, further evidence of some basic literacy in the area.

Sherd with 'HIKLMNO', from Sleaford. Image copyright Old Sleaford Heritage Group
Sherd with ‘HIKLMNO’, from Sleaford. Image copyright Old Sleaford Heritage Group