Weapon? Magic object? Man with metal detector stumbles upon mysterious Roman artifact

A dirt-covered fragment of a cryptic artifact sat undisturbed for centuries in Belgium. Now, the object — common in geometry classes, but rare in archaeological excavations — is puzzling archaeologists.

Patrick Schuermans, a hobby archaeologist, was scanning the ground in Kortessem with a metal detector when he stumbled upon an unusual fragment, according to a Jan. 10 news release from the Flanders Heritage Agency.

Puzzled by the piece, Schuermans contacted the local government and showed it to them. The archaeologists recognized the fragment immediately as part of a Roman dodecahedron, the release said.

These dodecahedrons are 12-sided bronze objects with a hollow center, circular holes on each side and small balls on each corner, experts said. Only two such artifacts have ever been found in Belgium. Photos show what these unusual objects look like when complete.

An example of a complete Roman dodecahedron.
An example of a complete Roman dodecahedron.

Despite the extensive reach of the Roman empire, most dodecahedrons have been found in parts of the empire that coincide with the Celtic civilizations, the release said. For this reason, these items are sometimes referred to as Gallo-Roman dodecahedrons. Archaeologists have found about 120 specimens in the Netherlands, Germany, France and the U.K.

But what is this quirky object for? Is it a weapon? A tool? Or something else entirely?

Archaeologists aren’t completely sure.

“There have been several hypotheses for it — some kind of a calendar, an instrument for land measurement, a scepter, etcetera — but none of them is satisfying,” Guido Creemers, a curator at the Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren, Belgium, told LiveScience.

“We rather think it has something to do with non-official activities like sorcery, fortune-telling and so on,” Creemers said.

Most experts think the 1,600-year-old dodecahedron was used during magic rituals, LiveScience reported. On the recently-uncovered fragment, Belgian archaeologists noticed fractures and repairs, indicating the item may have been broken during a ritual, the release said.

As mysteries continue to surround these Roman dodecahedrons, archaeologists finally have one breakthrough. For the first time, they know the exact location where such a rare item was uncovered.

Archaeologists will continue monitoring the location in Kortessem with the hope that more finds will be unearthed there, the release said.

Kortessem is about 50 miles east of Brussels. Both cities are located in the region of Flanders.

Google Translate was used to translate the news release from Flanders Heritage Agency.

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