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Ancient Roman Dodecahedron Uncovered by Amateur Archaeologists

Roman Dodecahedron. Credit: Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group
Roman dodecahedron uncovered by amateur archaeologists. Credit: Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group

A Roman dodecahedron was recently discovered in England by the amateur archaeology group Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group. These twelve-sided metal objects have baffled experts for a long time, and finding a well-preserved one in a farmer’s field near Norton Disney in Lincolnshire has stirred up the mystery once again.

Last June, the Norton Disney excavation started, aiming to explore Roman-era remains. The volunteers found the usual stuff like pottery, animal bones, and small metal items.

However, on the second-to-last day, the team unexpectedly discovered a well-preserved Roman dodecahedron about the size of a grapefruit. Richard Parker, the secretary of the Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group, shared, “We were completely surprised by it. We weren’t getting many metal signals at that point, but all of a sudden there it was.”

33rd of its kind found in Britain

In Britain, this Roman dodecahedron marks the 33rd discovery of its kind, but what’s remarkable is that it’s the first one ever found in the Midlands region.

Crafted from copper alloy, the object is about 3 inches tall and 3.4 inches wide, tipping the scales at around half a pound. What sets it apart from many others is its pristine condition. It’s completely intact without any damage or breakage, as reported by Archaeology magazine.

For a while now, researchers have been scratching their heads over the purpose of these objects. They don’t have any writings or descriptions in Roman texts to give us a clue. People have thrown around ideas, suggesting they could be toys, dice, maces, sling stones, or maybe even range-finding tools for Roman artillery.

Some have gone as far as proposing they’re ancient knitting patterns for Roman gloves. The fancy design and the fact that they don’t show signs of wear, however, make many of these theories less likely.

Dodecahedron might have served as a religious object in Roman times

To gain a deeper understanding, the Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group sought advice from experts. The consensus points towards the dodecahedron (Greek:δωδεκάεδρον) being a probable religious or ritual item in Roman times.

Its unique makeup makes it even more intriguing. It is comprised of 75 percent copper, 7 percent tin, and 18 percent lead. This composition raises eyebrows because too much lead could make it brittle and not so handy for certain purposes.

Even though more than a hundred dodecahedrons have been found in northwestern Europe in the last two hundred years, this discovery stands out because of its archaeological setting. Usually, these objects are found one at a time by metal detector enthusiasts.

The Norton Disney find is special because it is a rare case of stumbling upon the object right where it was originally placed.

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