Etruscan Numerals

The dicey proof of Etruscan numerals
By Paleoglot, 2007

There are a pair of dice called the Tuscania dice that everyone studying Etruscan encounters. It’s unavoidable. Whenever an Etruscologist of any sort publishes anything about the Etruscan numeral system, it’s a done deal that we will be told of those lovely ivory dice and how this somehow proves conclusively the proper order of the numerals. It is said that dice in classical times followed a specific order and were made such that any two opposing sides would be respectively marked with numbers that when added together equalled seven. So if we have “one” on one side, we expect “six” on the other. If we have “four” on one side, we expect “three” on the other. And so on, and so on.

The words for most numbers in Etruscan are no longer up for debate because of the many inscriptions beyond just the dice that show their true mathematical values. However some numbers, the words for “six” and “four”, are still being debated to this very day.

You see, from these dice, despite other notables in the field who had said before this discovery that śa means “six” and huθ means “four”, we are now often told, far too confidently, the very opposite, based only on these dice, that śa means “four” and huθ means “six”. Upon reading that information, the reader is expected to sleep tight and feel that they know everything they need to know. The debate is now closed…

But is it?

Unfortunately, the pattern on the dice are not as dependable as widely believed. The following link hits home a simple message, easily verifiable, which quickly uncovers a masked uncertainty in this material evidence: Gallery of Ancient Dice

On each page is a lucid warning at the top: “Note that many ancient dice are NOT numbered in the standard (1-6, 2-5, 3-4) way.” Be warned and take note of the various patterns possible. Frankly, it’s somewhat common sense that in an age before mass production, there must have been variation but this revelation in itself undermines the hallowed evidence. There is, of course, no scientific reason that “1-6, 2-5, 3-4” should be a preferred pattern over all others since if the dice are properly made, all sides should have an equal chance of turning up with each roll.

As you can see by this list of photos of ancient dice discovered in various locations, there is indeed a prevalent classical pattern of “1-6, 2-5, 3-4” which would seem at first to confirm the feelings of many Etruscologists, however there are also a significant number of dice that follow other patterns like “1-3, 2-4, 5-6” and “1-2, 3-4, 5-6” showing that the debate on the proper order of the Etruscan number system, particularly concerning the words for “four” and “six” are just not resolved to any appreciable degree by these artifacts alone.



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