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They find a dodecahedron buried in a field and the mystery born in 1739 grows


Remarkable archaeological discovery in Belgium. What did these rare objects linked to Romans and Celts mean?

From time to time, in a forgotten wasteland, in the trunk of an antique dealer or in a site excavated in the domains of

ancient Rome

, the mystery of the


dodecahedrons reappears, some

strange ancient bronze objects

whose function is unknown.

The Roman dodecahedron is a geometric figure with twelve pentagonal faces pierced with non-identical circles and topped at the vertices with small protruding balls.

They date from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.


are hollow and about the size of a tennis ball

, although specimens vary in make and dimensions.

The first one was found in 1739

in Aston, England, and since then about 120 have been discovered in Europe, plus those that may be in private collections or still buried, but what their true meaning is not yet known.

Archaeologists still do not know for sure what role the dodecahedrons played in Roman culture.

Photo: EFE

The last one has appeared in the Belgian town of Kortessem.

An amateur archaeologist named

Patrick Schuermans,

exploring a farm field with a metal detector, came across a 6-centimeter metal fragment that turned out to be a dodecahedron, and handed it over to the Flemish Heritage Agency.

"Many hypotheses have been formulated about the function of these

strange objects

, but there is no conclusive explanation," summarizes that institution about some pieces that are not mentioned in historical texts.

Dodecahedrons: mystery, witchcraft and clairvoyance

The list of possible uses attributed to them is wide and varied: a weapon, a tool for planning planting, a candlestick, a

device for knitting gloves, a toy, an amulet

, a dice, a weight for fishing nets, etc. a musical instrument, a banner bearer, a device for calculating distances on the battlefield, a joint, a tool for calibrating pipes...

Archaeologist Patrick Schuermans shows the Roman dodecahedron fragment he found with a metal detector.

Photo: EFE

But Belgian archaeologists who have studied the 1,600-year-old object suspect that they were used in

magical rituals

related to witchcraft or divination.

"It is quite possible (...). For now we do not have a satisfactory proposition for a practical use, although there are many hypotheses. A use as a magical item or some kind of 'defixio' (curse tablet) is still possible", explains

Guido Creemers

, curator of the Gallo-Roman Museum of Tongeren, to EFE.

The lack of written references would respond to the fact that clairvoyance and witchcraft were very popular among the Celts and Romans but "they were not officially allowed and there were severe punishments."

"We know of a category of metal plates with magical inscriptions (...) that were placed, for example, in houses in a place where they were not visible.

They were made by magicians

and their destiny was to curse the owner of the house. It could It could be that dodecahedrons served a comparable purpose, for example divination," he adds.

Dodecahedrons are strange ancient bronze objects whose function is unknown.

Photo: EFE

Another clue is the discovery in Geneva in 1982 during the restoration works of the Cathedral of Saint Peter of a solid dodecahedron, and not a hollow one,

with the signs of the zodiac engraved in Latin

, he points out.

"If I am forced to give an explanation, I should look for it in this direction," adds the archaeologist.

The new Belgian dodecahedron also reinforces the widespread theory that they were

linked to Celtic cultures

and not to the practices of the Italian peninsula, so they would not be Gallo-Roman.

They have appeared in Italy or Hungary, but above all in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain.

That is to say, in what were Gaul, Germania and Britannia,

Celtic territories invaded by Julio Cesar

between 58 and 51 BC.

C., and largely administered by Rome until the fifth century.

"It is remarkable that dodecahedrons are not present at all in the area

around the Mediterranean Sea

 like Hispania or North Africa, but in 'an area matching that of Celtic civilization,' notes the Flemish Heritage Agency.

The city that the Romans called Atuatuca Tungrorum (Tongeren in Flemish or Tongres in French) was where the

Germano-Celtic tribes of the Eburones

lived , commanded by Catuvolcos and Ambiorix and defeated by the Roman troops of Julius Caesar.

In the 19th century, in the heat of the

romantic-nationalist currents,

Ambiorix became one of the national heroes of an incipient Belgian State in need of national symbols and today it has consecrated squares, statues and streets throughout the country.

The geographical location of the dodecahedrons is also consistent with the fact that they were made with the complicated sculptural technique of wax casting and

the Celts were great metallurgical masters.

The new fragment

will be exhibited from March

at the Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren, which has a complete specimen found in 1939. A third found in Belgium, in 1888 in the municipality of Bassenge, is on display at the Grand Curtius museum in Liège.


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Source: clarin

All news articles on 2023-02-04

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