An examination of a handwritten document from the early 21st Century

This document was recently unearthed in southern Tasmania, Australia and has proven to be a curious example of early 21st century writing. It is believed that it is one of the last examples of writing on paper known before the great move to “computerised” text that characterisedthe era.

It is believed that the document is written in the lingua franca of the period, Modern English. We know from other historical records that the following alphabet is commonly recognised in the era and locality.

From this alphabet, we can determine that the document was originally photographed upside down! It is believed that the original photographer correctly identified the “address” area of the document (see below) but then wrongly assumed that this “address” should be at the top left of the document.

The darker ink sections at the top of the document do not appear to have been written by human hand and we believe them to be insignificant in the context of the document.

With a quick initial review we broke the document down into a two significant areas which we have called the “address” and the “letter”. The bottom right ruled section appears to be a form of address, perhaps denoting the author of the missive and the recipient.

It is curious to note a repetition of a particular word shape in this section. It is possible that this is a method of emphasising the sender or recipient.

It is perhaps useful to transcribe the letters and words we can recognise from the two sections of the document. The well known document “A Dictionary of the English Language” proved very useful here. The query symbol “?” has been used where the letters are unclear. [Editor’s Note: this transcription is written with “Unicode” and may require additional fonts on your system to be legible.]

MOU?D T YOU ?
IH TO BIRTHDAY
B ? ?
A ?????
M?
DORA

And in the “address” section:

HAMMAH
AUMTI B ANN B
HAMMAH IDE
MC??MA

We quickly spotted the ideographic symbol at the base of the document which we believe to be a “rabbit” – a form of animal life common in Tasmania in the early 21st century AD.

One of the sociological researchers on our team was excited to identify the “DORA” letter group (pronounced roughly as “Daw-ra”), which seems to have been a common meme at the time, perhaps the name of a famous entertainer.


Initially, we were puzzled by a shape that did not appear to be representative of any of the English alphabet, until we realised that the shape was merely an inverted L:

Note the difference between the inverted L and the R in DORA (we believe the R
to be a close match to the “lower case” version of the R):

This allowed us to identify a number of other words, so we thought:

MOULD T YOU L
IH TO BIRTHDAY
B ? ?
ALL ???
M?
DORA

Using the aforementioned Dictionary, we were then able to identify several words quickly, but this left us with a very puzzling message [Editor’s note: translations have been provided from the Dictionary by the team]:

MOULD The earth of the burying ground
T
YOU Second person personal pronoun
L IH
TO A function word used to indicate direction or action
BIRTHDAY The day of a person’s birth
B ? ?
ALL Encompassing everything
???
M?
DORA [The name of a famous entertainer?]

The use of the word associated with death together with the word associated with birth did lead us down the wrong track for some time. This lead to an entertaining but not particularly useful discussion as to possible interpretations of the document – perhaps it was a record of an important event, or an invitation to an event, or even a threat:

“On the day that the
entertainer Daw-ra is born,
you will be consigned to the burial ground” (!)

At this point we abandoned this path of inquiry, not realising how close we were to the true interpretation – and yet so far!

It was clear that we would have to work a bit harder to get to the true meaning of this document. A closer look at the M letters in the document showed a variation which we had not initially identified.

The first M had 3 humps and not 2. Perhaps it was not an M at all. Eventually we hit upon the idea of inverting the letter, in the same way as we had done with the L. Immediately it became clear that this was indeed an invitation – perhaps as mentioned to an event celebrating the birth
of DORA.

WOULD A question word implying desire
T
YOU Second person personal pronoun
L IH
TO A function word used to indicate direction or action
BIRTHDAY The day of a person’s birth
B ? ?
ALL Encompassing everything
???
M?
DORA [The name of a famous entertainer?]

The next letter to get an extended examination was the star shape next to the final M in the document:

By closely comparing each letter in the English alphabet to this star shape, we were able to bring the options down to K X and Y. In this context, it seemed that Y made the most sense and was the closest match, giving the well known Modern English word MY. This led us back to the start of the document where the L IH grouping (over two lines) was still puzzling us. Again, we compared the letters of the Modern English alphabet to the H letter, and realised that the K was possibly a closer match than the H. That gave us this message:

WOULD A question word implying desire
T
YOU Second person personal pronoun
LIK Perhaps an alternate spelling of LIKE, when linked with WOULD, indicating a pleasurable desire
TO A function word used to indicate direction or action
BIRTHDAY The day of a person’s birth
B ? ?
ALL Encompassing everything
???
MY First person personal pronoun
DORA [The name of a famous entertainer?]

Even from our admittedly limited understanding of English grammar, there was something that didn’t quite work in the ordering of the words. It seemed almost that there was a “word-picture” with some of the remaining letters – a letter apparently on its side, and some circular letters that seemed to be written and rewritten.


This symbol gave us trouble until it was suggested that perhaps it was a stylized C:

With a deep breath we proceeded to break apart the word picture:

This gave us something else to play with: B A LL E ? and COM. We postulated that perhaps the order of words in the document was less significant then than commonly thought by researchers today:

WOULD A question word implying desire
T
YOU Second person personal pronoun
LIK Perhaps an alternate spelling of LIKE, when linked with WOULD, indicating a pleasurable desire
TO A function word used to indicate direction or action
COM Perhaps COME, to move towards something
MY First person personal pronoun
BIRTHDAY The day of a person’s birth
B ALL E ? Perhaps BALLET, a ceremonial dance
DORA [The name of a famous entertainer?]

At this point we were sure we had the message (roughly translated):

Would you like to come [to] my
birthday Daw-ra
‘ballet’?

We were on a roll and started to tackle the address area. It was now clear that HAMMAH was a name. Again, applying the power of the Dictionary to the task, we came up with:

HAMMAH “Hama” (a name, rough pronounciation)
AUMTI
B
ANN “An” (a name, rough pronounciation)
B
HAMMAH
I DE
MC ? LMA

Again, stylistic variations came into play. It is clear from this document, that although other documents from the same era have suggested a regular and standardized alphabet, a wide latitude of variability in letter shapes and word spellings was in fact both permissible and common. We believe that this is an exciting area for further study. While our analysis could not identify any common words starting with “AUMTI”, a close match was made with “AUNTIE”, which both fit in the context and clarified the remainder of the address:

HANNAH “Hana” (a name, rough pronounciation)
AUNTIE
ANNE “An” (a name, rough pronounciation)
HANNAH
I DE
MC ? LMA

The names “HANNAH” and “ANNE” have been found in other literature from the period.

Thus, we believe this document to have been an invitation from Hana to her parent’s sibling An, asking her to come to her ceremonial dance celebration of the entertainer Daw-ra’s birthday.

The remainder of the address remains a puzzle. We have not been able to decipher it and we welcome any suggestions.

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