The Roman dodecahedron has puzzled experts for centuries. More than 100 of these 12-sided mysterious metal objects have been found across northwestern Europe. Now, another one of them has made an appearance in England.
Over the summer, the dodecahedron was unearthed in a field located in the Lincolnshire village of Norton Disney by an organization of volunteers called the Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group.
The group was performing a two-week dig for artifacts in the area where metal detectorists had previously found Roman coins and broaches.
“It was our second-to-last day of the excavation, and up pops this dodecahedron in Trench Four,” said Richard Parker, the secretary of the organization. “We were completely surprised by it. We weren’t getting many metal [signals] at that point, but all of a sudden, there it was.”
The hollow metal shell was about the size of a grapefruit and made out of copper alloy. Its 12 flat sides featured circular holes and studs at each corner where the 12 faces meet. It was discovered in excellent condition and fully complete.
Many of the other dodecahedrons found in the past had been badly damaged or were broken into fragments. This particular Roman dodecahedron is also large compared to the others. The smallest ones resemble a golf ball in size.
Roman dodecahedrons can be dated back between the first and third centuries A.D. But, since no historical records have ever made any references to the objects, experts are at a loss as to what they were used for.
Some have speculated that they were toys, dice, weapons, or tools. Others suggested that they functioned as calendars, measuring devices, knitting patterns for Roman gloves, or ornamental toppers for maces and scepters.
However, the Norton Disney group thinks that most of the theories are unlikely. For one, the artifacts are far too complex to have been weapons.