In a groundbreaking discovery, a group of amateur archaeologists in England has unearthed an enigmatic artifact from what is believed to be a Roman site. The Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group, on their penultimate day of excavation last June, found a dodecahedron – a copper alloy object characterized by its 12-sided form with various holes and knobs, sized between a golf ball and a grapefruit.
This dodecahedron, described as one of “archaeology’s great enigmas” by the Norton Disney group, adds to the mystery surrounding these ancient artifacts, of which over 100 have been discovered across Europe. The intrigue lies in the absence of any known visual or written descriptions of dodecahedra in Roman literature, leaving their function a matter of speculation.
Lorena Hitchens, a U.K.-based doctoral student studying all the Roman dodecahedra of Europe, notes that while there are many theories regarding their use – ranging from gauges and rangefinders to candlesticks, dice, or knitting tools – none are backed by concrete evidence. The Norton Disney website suggests that the intricacy and craftsmanship involved in creating their dodecahedron imply it was not used for mundane purposes, leaning towards a ritual or religious application.
This latest discovery stands out not only for its excellent condition and being fully intact but also for its uniqueness in the central region of England, the Midlands. Most previously found dodecahedra have been discovered in fragments. Richard Parker, secretary for Norton Disney, points out the significance of its deliberate placement 1,700 years ago, contrasting with many known examples that lack context due to historic collecting and trading practices.
The artifact was revealed in a BBC archaeology program called “Digging for Britain” and is currently displayed at the National Civil War Centre at the Newark Museum in England. The Norton Disney group plans to return to the excavation site this year to further investigate the circumstances surrounding this fascinating dodecahedron, hoping to shed light on one of archaeology’s lingering mysteries.