Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ancient Dodecahedrons, and Crocodile Clocks

"History Mystery: Ancient Dodecahedron's Purpose Remains Secret"
Alexandria Hein, Archaeology, (June 10, 2011)

(Portable Antiquities Scheme / British Museum, via, used w/o permission)

"Can you do what the world's archaeologists can't? Can you explain this -- thing?

"It's been called a war weapon, a candlestick, a child's toy, a weather gauge, an astronomical instrument, and a religious symbol -- just to name a few. But what IS this mystery object, really?

"There are books and websites dedicated to properly identifying it, dissertations dedicated to unveiling the truth, textbooks and class curriculums spent arguing over what its function is. Fans can even 'Like' it on Facebook.

"Yet the only thing historians will agree on is a name for the odd object: a Roman dodecahedron....

"...It's dated from somewhere around the second and third century AD, and has been popping up everywhere in Europe. Archeologists have found the majority of them in France, Switzerland and parts of Germany where the Romans once ruled.

"But its use remains a mystery, mostly because the Romans who usually kept meticulous accounts make no mention of it in records. And with sizes varying from 4 to 11 cm, and some bearing decorative knobs, it only gets harder to pinpoint a function.

"Speculation among historians has resulted in many different hypotheses, which is as close as we may get to an accurate answer. Few archeologists will even comment on it, because the dodecahedron isn't defined to a specific cultural area and therefore not their area of expertise. Even the theories that do exist are highly debated among historians.

"Plutarch, the famous Greek historian reportedly identified the dodecahedron as a vital instrument for zodiac signs. The twelve sides represent the twelve animals in the circle of the Zodiac, but even this theory comes under contest when the argument of the knobs as decoration is presented.

" 'My take is that it is yet another piece the use of which we shall never completely sort out even though we are fortunate to have Plutarch's testimony,' said Andrea Galdy, who holds a Ph.D from the School of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Manchester and is currently teaching Art History in Florence, Italy. Galdy has not come across it in her own work, and does not regard herself as a specialist, but she does have plenty of experience in labeling artifacts...."

The Lemming doesn't know, either: but thinks that Dr. Galdy is on the right track. Over a dozen centuries after the things were made, just exactly what they were used for will probably remain a matter for more-or-less-informed guesswork.

That won't stop the Lemming from speculating, though.

Let's start with what we've got - smallish things that are fairly easy to make, and that look cool. That were so common and/or unimportant that even compulsive record-keepers didn't keep track of them.

That sounds like the sort of nicknack folks pick up in the 'home decor' section of a hardware store.

If that doesn't sound 'scientific,' or 'scholarly,' that's because the Lemming's studied enough history to know that, for several thousand years of recorded history, people have acted pretty much like people - no matter where they are.

That, with a few exceptions, generally includes having a few things around that don't do much of anything except look cool.

Yes, we've got your standard-issue native idols and totems and stuff. But - let's take a hypothetical case.

It's about 1,700 years from now - between the years 3700 and 3800 in the calendar quite a few of us use these days.

Archeologists have been puzzling over dozens of objects, the purpose of which baffles them. A few centimeters across, these sculptures portray a mechanical elapsed-time display, embedded in - or held by - a creature.

Although a few experts maintain that the creature is a dragon - or a personification of the ancient deity Elvis John - many identify it as a crocodile or alligator. The crocodile camp point to those rare specimens in which the creature is an actual reptile, into which a display device was mounted.

Disney Crocodile clock and figure 2000Miniature fishing gator, crocodile, 2006Taxidermy crocodile, antique clock/watch parts, mixed metal components, Lisa Black Creations

Scholars are nearly all in agreement, however, that these devices were part of an ancient Cult of Entropy: as evidenced by the time-display being captured by - or consumed within - the Great Lizard Of Entropic Progression.

Far-fetched? Maybe.

About the Roman-era dodecahedrons, the Lemming suspects that they may have been the 2nd-century equivalent of garden gnomes.

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