A survey of cube-shaped dice dating back to the Roman era finds that they were not designed to have an equal chance of landing on different numbers until the Renaissance, according to researchers from UC Davis and the American Museum of Natural History. Roman-era dice, the researchers found, were a mess when it came to shape. They were made from a variety of materials, such as metal, bone and clay, and no two were shaped entirely alike. Many were visibly lumpy and lopsided, with the 1 and 6 on opposite sides that were more likely to roll up. In the Dark Ages after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, between 400 CE and 1100 CE, dice seem to have grown rare. Relatively few have been found from this period. Dice reemerged in the Middle Ages, and at that point were a little more regular in shape. But they still weren't fair -- anyone playing dice would have had slightly higher chances of getting certain numbers, depending on how uneven the dice were made.
The researchers suggest that the popularization of "scientific" thinking may have helped dice rolls become near-chance during the Renaissance. "People like Galileo and Blaise Pascal were developing ideas about chance and probability, and we know from written records in some cases they were actually consulting with gamblers," Jelmer Eerkens of UC Davis said. "We think users of dice also adopted new ideas about fairness, and chance or probability in games."
Researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have discovered a route through underwater limestone caves connecting the Sac Actun cenote and the Dos Ojos cenote. Maya pottery, human bones, and the bones of elephant-like creatures, giant sloths, bears, tigers, and extinct species of horses, all likely from around the end of the last Ice Age, have been found in the tunnel-like caves. Exploring them and finding artifacts can be difficult, though: the underwater caves range in width from 400 feet to just three feet.
This is a book, written sometime between 400 and 600 CE, in the Egyptian language Coptic. Unfortunately no one has been brave enough to open it. The charred book, named M.910 after its library accession number, was fused together by a cinder, which sank through many of its pages, binding the parchment leafs together and making opening the book dangerous. Thanks to modern technology, however, we do not need to open the codex to read its contents. A fine-detail CT scan of the codex was completed in December 2017. Previous fine-detail CT scans have worked, famously with a charred lump from En-Gedi in Israel, but that was a scroll. All the writing was on one side of the scroll. This codex has pages, with writing on both sides. Although tests of mock books worked, we will not know for a while if the real test -- scanning M.910 -- worked as well.
Who were the successors to the Roman's archrivals, the Parthians? You probably guessed from the title -- the Sassanians. It is widely considered the last "true" Persian Empire. Why?
An amazing new site has been found in Peru: an undisturbed cemetery with burials from the Viru Period (200 BCE - 500 CE) and the earlier Salinar Period (400 BCE - 200 BCE). The richer graves actually date to the Salinar Period, with gold artifacts, ritual objects, and a stone mace head. Unfortunately, those skeletons also show severe injuries. Located in Huanchaco, on Peru's north coast, the site is at what is essentially a fishing village. Such a concentration of high-status burials shows that the Salinar period had strong social differentiation, even in a small village.
In eastern Mongolia, archaeologists have uncovered a tomb dating to the mid-700s CE, surrounded by 14 stone pillars. Turkic runes inscribed on the pillars indicate the deceased was a viceroy and high-ranking administrative officer during the Second Turkic Qaghanate. This state, which controlled much of the steppes above the Great Wall of China, had emerged in 682 CE and lasted until 744 CE, under the leadership of the Götürk's Ashina clan. Think the Mongol Empire, but earlier and confined to the steppes, and led by Turkic clans. Prior to the discovery of the tomb, it had been thought that Turkic elites were only buried in particular parts of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of the ancient empire.
Tsuzuraozaki Kotei Iseki is an interesting archaeological site in Japan: it is entirely underwater! The site, in Lake Biwako under about 200 feet (61 meters) of water, is known to be home to a wide variety of pottery dating from as early as 8000 BCE through the 1100s CE. Japanese archaeologists recently used a robot (surprise, surprise) to explore Tsuzuraozaki Kotei Iseki. It spotted a Haji pottery urn, measuring about a foot long and dating to the 500s to 700s CE, and shallow, grayish-black bowls thought to be Sue pottery, made in Japan and southern Korea for funeral and ritual use beginning in the 400s CE.
A map of where, in the world, popes have been born. Note that they placed each pope in the country he would be born in, if he was born today. Three popes were born in modern-day Tunisia, sure, but that was back in the Roman Empire. Those ancient "Tunisian" popes would have called it the province of "Africa" and it included eastern Algeria and northern Libya, as well as Tunisia.
During the Kofun Period in Japanbetween 200 CE and 538 CE, Japanese emperors and nobility were buried in keyhole-shaped mounds called "kofun." Stripped of all plants, and surrounded by moats, they were quite impressive. Japan's capital at the time was Osaka; it is strategically located at a bay along one of the busiest maritime trading routes of East Asia, as well as at the mouth of a network of rivers which provided access inland. Kofun were built in Osaka, intentionally close to the coast. Of course, this was partially because Osaka was simply the capital and seat of royal power. But the kofun were also built near the water so that any foreigners who came to visit the country would be immediately struck by their grandeur.
Usually, when we think of gold, we think of a warm yellow color. But the Nahuange, who lived in northern Colombia during the first millenium CE, intentionally treated gold jewelry so that it looked pinkish orange. A recent study analyzed 44 Nahuange artifacts from the Museum of Gold in Colombia, and found that they were made from tumbaga, a gold alloy which contains a substantial percentage of copper. They were also all "depletion gilded" which means copper was removed from the surface through hammering, a heating and cooling process, or both. The result was a golden shine on the outside which hid the metal's true high-copper content. That gilding was later removed, on purpose, to bring the copper's pinkish tones out. So initially, the jewelry makers desired golden objects, but at some later point, it was preferable to have pinkish-orange jewelry.