Museum  May 2, 2024  Abby Andrulitis

Archaeologists Uncover Mysterious Ancient Roman Dodecahedron

Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group, 2024.

Dodecahedron on display at the National Civil War Centre, Newark Museum, 2024. Courtesy of Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group.

An unidentifiable object has been recovered from a Roman excavation site in England and is now being put on display at the National Civil War Centre, Newark Museum in Nottinghamshire. This mysterious artifact, known as the dodecahedron– named for its twelve, pentagon-shaped sides– is the 33rd to be found in the 1700 or so years since their creation. 

Volunteers from the Norton Disney Group were the ones to unearth the ambiguous object during an excavation in June of 2023. Although not the first of its kind to be discovered, this dodecahedron is still of particular interest to archaeologists. It is not only the first to be found in the English Midlands, but it was also uncovered in a type of excavated hole where it had been meticulously placed amongst other 4th century Roman pottery. It is also one of the largest to be found, measuring in at around 8cm tall and weighing 254g, and is in immaculate condition. 

Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group, 2023.

Volunteers from the Norton Disney Group on the day of the dodecahedron's discovery, June 2023. Courtesy of Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group.

Hollow with 12 holes of varying diameters, these dodecahedrons are quite the archaeological enigma. There is no written documentation or drawings of these pieces, so the explanation behind their original purpose is left to great speculation. The dodecahedrons have come in multiple sizes, showing they are not standardized, and they do not have any inscriptions, nor do they typically show any types of wear. 

The precision in their shape and build proves the crafting of a dodecahedron required great time and effort, making it likely that the object was not cheap, nor frivolously dealt with. Previous dodecahedrons have been found buried amongst coins; this can either be viewed as another potential hint at their perceived value at the time or at their possible purpose having something to do with currency. 

Wikimedia Commons, Photographed by Emma Traherne, The British Museum, 2010.

Roman coin hoard discovered in November, 2010. Photographed by Emma Traherne, The British Museum. License

With religion playing a major role in Ancient Roman culture, some theorize that the dodecahedrons might have been used as some sort of religious or superstitious token– perhaps an offering to the Gods or a protective, stationary object to ward off bad energy. Since only a partial excavation was conducted last year, the Norton Disney excavation group plans to return to the same site this upcoming summer, in hopes of discovering more of the truth and history behind these perplexing objects.

About the Author

Abby Andrulitis

Abby Andrulitis is a New England-based writer and the Assistant Editor for Art & Object. She holds her MFA in Screenwriting from Boston University. 

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