History & Culture

Archaeologists find 2,000-year-old dice in southern Poland

Dice. Credit: Rafał Wyrwich of the Silesian Museum
Dice. Credit: Rafał Wyrwich of the Silesian Museum

A 2,000-year-old dice (the oldest one found so far in Poland) is among this year's discoveries in the Celtic settlement in Samborowice (Silesia).


Celts once lived in a few regions of today's southern Poland, including the Głubczyce plateau near Racibórz (in the southwestern part of the Silesian Voivodeship). They were present there from the turn of the 4th century to the end of the 2nd century BCE.

Excavations in this area have been carried out for 11 years. From the beginning, the work was supervised by archaeologists Jacek Soida, a curator of the Archaeology Department of the Silesian Museum, and Dr. Przemysław Dulęba from the University of Wrocław.

According to Jacek Soida, one of this year's curiosities is the discovery (inside a semi-dugout) of a dice, probably from the turn of the 2nd century BCE. 

The artefact is a cuboid made of bone or antler. Soida explains that due to the low probability of rolling the dice so that it lands on either of its two smaller sides, the longer sides were usually marked with higher values (3, 5, 4 and 6). 'However, there were exceptions to this rule, and in the case of the Samborowice dice, these sides were marked only with the two highest values - 5 and 6. We are not sure whether it was a forgery or the item was used for a game unknown to us today,’ he says.

Prace terenowe w Samborowicach (Śląskie), fot. Jacek Soida z Muzeum Śląskiego
Field work in Samborowice (Silesia). Credit: Jacek Soida of the Silesian Museum

Similar dice are known primarily from the so-called central settlements in Lower Austria, Bohemia and Moravia. 'In smaller settlements, like the one in Samborowice, they are rarely discovered. But it is not the first example of a gaming item found in this settlement. A few years ago we discovered ceramic tokens that were probably used for playing games,’ Soida says.

Another discovery is a well-preserved iron fibula, a type of decorative clasp for fastening robes. 'Fragments of brooches are often discovered in settlements, but very rarely in such good condition, which makes this find unique. Iron objects that rest in the ground undergo significant destruction over the years and due to corrosion. In this case, the brooch fell into the fire in the past, where, as a result of high temperature, a layer of scale was formed on its surface, protecting the object against harmful corrosion. Of course, we still need to remove layers of mineral sinters in several places, but there is certainly intact metal underneath', the archaeologist says.

Moreover, during this year's field work, archaeologists discovered two more relics of buildings that were originally dug into the ground (so-called semi-dugouts). 'In such buildings, the Celts conducted various types of craft work, such as weaving, iron and non-ferrous metallurgy, horn-making and pottery. This is proven by discoveries from previous years', recalls Soida.

Prace terenowe w Samborowicach (Śląskie), fot. Jacek Soida z Muzeum Śląskiego
Field work in Samborowice (Silesia). Credit: Jacek Soida of the Silesian Museum

Soida points out that the work in the Celtic settlement in Samborowice is the only research of this type regularly conducted. 'That is why every year it attracts numerous volunteers from all over Poland, and often from other countries such as Czechia, the United States and the Netherlands. Celtic culture enthusiasts, who are not always archaeologists, but also include lawyers, geologists, artists or employees of large corporations, are not afraid of hard work and they help explore the settlement with great commitment. And this year, the weather conditions - drought and over thirty-degree heat - were very demanding,’ the researcher says.

Every year, discoveries bring archaeologists more and more answers about the life of the Celts in the area. In recent years, archaeologists found a weaving workshop and relics of a pottery kiln. 'Every discovery, even the smallest animal bone remains or ceramic jewellery fragments, is important to us, because collecting all the details allows us to create a complete picture of this community. We hope for further discoveries in the coming years, including relics of further farm buildings,’ Soida says.

The collected artefacts are examined by archaeologists, and their work is summarized in publications in scientific journals. In the future, the researchers would also like to organize an exhibition.

PAP - Science in Poland, Agnieszka Kliks-Pudlik 

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