Archaeology: What is this mysterious Roman dodecahedron?
Posted by Xeno on June 13, 2011
Can you do what the world’s archaeologists can’t? Can you explain this — thing?It’s been called a war weapon, a candlestick, a child’s toy, a weather gauge, an astronomical instrument, and a religious symbol — just to name a few. But what IS this mystery object, really?
There are books and websites dedicated to properly identifying it, dissertations dedicated to unveiling the truth, textbooks and class curriculums spent arguing over what its function is. Fans can even “Like” it on Facebook.
Yet the only thing historians will agree on is a name for the odd object: a Roman dodecahedron.
That part was easy, seeing as the mathematical shape of this artifact is a dodecahedron. Best described as a bronze or stone geometric object, it has twelve flat pentagonal faces, each with a circular hole in the middle (not necessarily the same size). All sides connect to create a hollowed out center.
It’s dated from somewhere around the second and third century AD, and has been popping up everywhere in Europe. Archeologists have found the majority of them in France, Switzerland and parts of Germany where the Romans once ruled.
But its use remains a mystery, mostly because the Romans who usually kept meticulous accounts make no mention of it in records. And with sizes varying from 4 to 11 cm, and some bearing decorative knobs, it only gets harder to pinpoint a function.
Speculation among historians has resulted in many different hypotheses, which is as close as we may get to an accurate answer. Few archeologists will even comment on it, because the dodecahedron isn’t defined to a specific cultural area and therefore not their area of expertise. Even the theories that do exist are highly debated among historians.