While walking through a plowed field near the small Flemish town of Kortessem (Belgium), amateur archaeologist Patrick Schuermans comes across a mysterious fragment with his detector. Sent to scientists at the Gallo-Roman museum in Tongeren, it was finally identified by experts in December, reports LiveScience January 26, 2023: Although only one corner remains, the original object was unmistakably a Roman dodecahedron (twelve-sided solid) in bronze, measuring just over five centimeters in diameter and older than 1,600 years old. But although other such geometric artifacts have been discovered in the past, archaeologists cannot explain their function. No written record referring to it has ever been found.
The Roman dodecahedron, an object of divination?
The first Roman dodecahedron was identified in England in the 18th century. Since then, more than a hundred have also been found across the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They consist of hollow, 12-sided, baseball-sized cast metal shells with large holes on each face and studs on each corner. The metal itself cannot be dated, but some of these strange objects have been found in layers of earth dated between the 1st and 5th centuries AD. One of them in bronze, discovered complete just outside the walls of theancient roman city of Tongres in 1939, is already exposed in the Gallo-Roman museum of the current city. The new fragment could be exhibited alongside it as early as February.
But a question remains about the Roman dodecahedrons: what were they used for? “There have been several hypotheses — a sort of calendar, an instrument for measuring land, a scepter, etc. — but none of them is satisfactory”believes Guido Creemers, curator of the museum interviewed by LiveScience. The track of the measuring instrument was ruled out because of their different weights and sizes (from 4 to 11 centimeters in diameter). However, there are still many theories around their function (parts of a weapon, tools used in agriculture, dice and game objects, knitting patterns, etc.). Tongeren experts lean more towards “something to do with unofficial activities like witchcraft, divination, etc.”popular during the Roman era, he develops.
Rituals perhaps influenced by the Gauls or the Celts
With Christianity as the religion ofRoman Empire before its dislocation, “these activities were not authorized and the punishments were severe”, which could explain why no written source has been found. Furthermore, these mysterious metallic artifacts have only been found in the northwestern regions of the Empire, and many have been found at burial sites. Clues that suggest that the practice of making use of it was limited to regions still influenced by the Gallic where the Celts. The Flemish Heritage Agency finally reveals, in a communicated of January 10, that “traces of a repair on the part” were observed. The fractured surface of the fragment could insinuate that the dodecahedron was deliberately broken, perhaps during a final ritual.
This find could shed more light on researchers, as the exact location of its discovery has been well documented by the amateur archaeologist. Later archaeological research at the site had already identified fragments of wall paintings, indicating that it may have been a place where an ancient Roman villa stood. The location should be studied closely.
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Ancient puzzle: the fragment of a mysterious Roman dodecahedron discovered in Belgium
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