Oldest die in Poland found at Celtic site

A 2,000-year-old die discovered at the site of a Celtic settlement in Samborowice, Silesia, this August is the oldest die ever discovered in Poland. The rectangular cuboid was carved out of bone or antler and is of a type found in much larger Celtic settlements in Austria, Bohemia and Moravia. It is rare to find dice like this one in a small settlement like Samborowice.

Due to the low probability of rolling the dice so that it lands on the smaller two sides, which are the bases, the values ​​3, 5, 4 and 6 were usually marked on the longer sides. There were exceptions to this rule, such as the duplication of some values. In the case of the Samborowice dice, the [long] sides were marked only with the two highest values, i.e. 5 and 6. We are not sure whether it was a forgery or whether the item was used for a game unknown to us today.

The Celts moved into the Lower Silesia area around 400 B.C. and inhabited the region until 120 B.C. The Celtic settlement in Samborowice is the only one in Poland to be regularly excavated, so it draws volunteers and students from around the world. Archaeologists from the Silesian Museum and the University of Wrocław have been leading excavations at the site for 11 seasons, this year braving heat-stroke inducing temperatures of 90F. Removing layers of soil and rock in full sun is heavy labor even when it’s not the middle of a heat wave. The team had to slow down the pace, but still managed to make some extraordinary finds.

The die was found in the remains of a semi-dugout building, a structure dug into the ground used by the Celts as workplaces for various crafts including weaving, metalsmithing, pottery making and horn carving. The die was probably not a work product, but rather used for leisure activity during downtime.

Another exciting find was an iron fibula, a brooch used to fasten garments. Fibulae from this era in Poland are typically heavily corroded and often survive only in fragmentary form. This example had the good fortune to get burned in antiquity. As it cooked, a layer of scale formed on the iron. It looks crusty and knobby, but that mineral crust preserved the brooch from corrosion. Conservators will remove the scale to reveal the intact iron underneath.

2 thoughts on “Oldest die in Poland found at Celtic site

  1. From a German point of view, and as he back then did not know about “Poland”, Tacitus sounds quite familiar 🤪️

    XXIV (…) Aleam, quod mirere, sobrii inter seria exercent, tanta lucrandi perdendive temeritate, ut, cum omnia defecerunt, extremo ac novissimo iactu de libertate ac de corpore contendant. Victus voluntariam servitutem adit: quamvis iuvenior, quamvis robustior adligari se ac venire patitur. Ea est in re prava pervicacia; ipsi fidem vocant. Servos condicionis huius per commercia tradunt, ut se quoque pudore victoriae exsolvant.

    “(…) The game of throwing the dice, strangely enough, they are occupied with even when sober, and so venturesome are they about winning or losing, that, when anything else has failed, on the last and final throw they stake the freedom of their own persons. The loser goes into voluntary slavery: even if younger and stronger accepting to be bound and sold. Such is their stubborn persistence in a bad practice; They refer to it as honor. This kind of slaves they soon resell, in order to get rid from shame about such a victory.”

  2. Unsure if ‘betting on racehorses’ could have been a Celtic issue, but it may have indeed:

    “Alte Burg” (the one in Langenenslingen, Baden-Württemberg) is a large Celtic hilltop and possible cult site for the regional population. It is located 9 km from the major Heuneburg settlement. The main wall has been dated to the 7th to 5th century BC.

    It is the largest known construction of this type from that period north of the Alps, and one of its interpretations is that of a “hippodrome”, i.e. a rather early not so Roman “circus”. Feel free to (picture) search on “archaeologie an der oberen donau alte-burg”.


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