A woman in a pink jumper looks at three Roman dodecahedron in a glass cabinet

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The mysterious dodecahedra of the Roman Empire

The mysterious dodecahedron, a 12 sided object, has been puzzling archaeologists since its discovery in the 18th century. Just 120 have been found across what was the Roman Empire, though never in Italy, Spain, Africa or the Mediterranean. These striking objects are some of the rarest and least understood to survive from the Roman world. An exhibition at Corbridge Roman Town is trying to shed some light on what these unusual objects might have been used for.

What is a dodecahdron?

While each dodecahedron is unique, they all share certain features. All have 12 sides, each with a hole in and decoration, knobs on every corner, and they’re all made of copper alloy. They are complex objects so a skilled craftsman would have been needed to make them. This skill, along with the amount of metal needed means they would have been expensive and were likely made to order.

What do archaeologists think?

The archaeological sites where they have been found tell us little about their function or meaning. They do not appear to be specifically military or civilian, domestic or religious. They may be urban or rural, part of the living world or gifts with the dead. Theories range from a device for determining the optimal date for sowing winter grain, a candle holder, sceptre head, die, range finder, surveying instrument, child’s toy or even knitting gloves.

How can we get involved?

Head over to Corbridge Roman Town to explore all of the different theories. Handle and play with a number of replica dodecahedrons to get a feel of what they might have been used for.  Vote for your favourite theory, or come up with your own! You may helps us solve the mystery.  

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