Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Toynbee Tiles

We went to Philadelphia for the day back in May, and I couldn't help but notice strange tiles on the roads. I've since looked into these mysterious modern artifacts and found out that they appear all over the USA - with different varieties and some as large as a car number plate. They are called Toynbee tiles (or Toynbee plaques). It's believed that the first, and larger ones, were placed in the 1980s. Over time they have got smaller and have varied in fonts and styling. It's uncertain whether it's the work of a single person or a group.

The graffiti tiles tend to be located in the middle of busy streets and highways where they wear away quickly or instead they resurface. Apparently tiles are wrapped in tar paper and placed on a busy street early in the morning, then the pressure of heavy vehicles driving over them for weeks on end pushes it into the road surface. Eventually, the tar paper wears away, exposing similar messages:


The tiles might be made of layers of linoleum and asphalt crack-filling compound, but again no-one is sure. I think that something so cryptic that can cause such controversy is just fabulous, but it does annoy me that I might never find out what they are for!



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