A Roman artefact, believed to be a store loyalty card, was unearthed during the Lincoln Waterside Shopping Centre redevelopment.
A workman found the 1,659-year-old tablet, believed to be the first of its kind discovered, when removing an old lift shaft before Christmas.
On the 15cm by 7.5cm ceramic tablet, there are engravings of what appears to be the name of a sandal shop, Morbi calceamenta, and dated “1 Aprilis AD 355″.
Most interesting is a sentence etched at the bottom of the artefact: “duo et duo quattuor pedes, ad buy liberum”.
This translates to “buy four pairs to receive one free pair”.
Owners of the Waterside Capital & Regional sent the artefact to the British Museum, where Dr Joseph Jones from Indiana, USA, an expert in Roman history, is studying the tablet.
While the original stays with the professor in London, the shopping centre will display a replica at the High Street entrance of the Waterside centre from Tuesday, April 1st.
Roy Greening, General Manager at the centre, said: “We’re amazed! It’s almost unbelievable to find such a hidden treasure in the foundations of the centre after all this time.
“As you can imagine, discovering something like this meant we had a lot of red tape and procedures to follow.
“Workmen discovered the relic just before Christmas, but the experts, academics and historians asked us to keep everything under wraps until they could verify the age and authenticity of the tablet, which they’ve now done.
“The original artefact is now with the experts at the British Museum, but we’re delighted that they’ve managed to create a copy of the incredibly delicate object which we can put on display in the centre.
“We think we’ll see a lot of people coming to have a look at what we think is the first example of a store loyalty card when it goes on display next Tuesday.”
Speaking from London, Dr Jones said the discovery was a “world first and something that shows that, even in Roman times, retailers were doing everything they could to entice customers into their stores.”
“This find is of unprecedented historic importance,” Dr Jones added.