“I really didn’t expect to find anything, but already in the first minute I found an amazing die!”, said Danielle Pinto of Florida after she found an ancient game die while sifting Temple Mount soil.
A game die is always an exciting find. It opens for us a portal into the lives of people of the past, which were not very different from our own. While it is true that they lived before the advent of plastics, and that therefore they had to cut their dice from animal bones, the basic shape has remained the same for thousands of years.
Let’s try this: Stop reading this post and go find yourself some dice – perhaps from a game of monopoly or backgammon. Do you notice their pattern? Every opposite pair of sides adds up to seven: 1 is opposite 6, 2 with 5 and 3 with 4. This isn’t a new phenomenon, and almost every die that’s been found, whether in the Sifting Project or other digs, fit into this unwritten law (at least since the third century BCE). But this particular die does not abide by this law. And that’s not the only thing special about it – it is missing the number 4! In its place, the number 5 appears twice.
On the one hand, the 4 and the 5 are very similar, and if we assume that some novice apprentice die-maker got confused, it would probably be on these numbers. But, perhaps, there is no confusion here at all, rather something more nefarious. If the numbers are so alike, then the person playing against this die’s owner (who keeps rolling high numbers), will be less likely to notice the difference than if there were, say, two sixes. Or perhaps it is neither of these explanations, but just evidence of a particular type of board game in which one never moves four spaces.
From the dozens of game dice that were found till now in the sifting, only one other die did not abide by the conventional arrangement of opposite numbers. On it, only the numbers 2, 4 and 6 appeared -each one twice on opposite sides.
Are we dealing with a special die for cheaters? Perhaps we have before us a tangible example of what was stated in the Mishnah, “One who plays dice is an invalid witness” (Sanhedrin 3:3). Or perhaps this is just another example of dice from unknown games.