Our first two objects may have appeared mystifying at first glance, but our last cryptic object probably looks familiar. It is indeed a common six-sided die, but it’s also some 1800 years old. It was excavated from the floor of a 2nd century Roman workshop in Southwark. The Romans were incredibly fond of games and gaming – the emperor Claudius even wrote a book (now lost) about dice games, De arte aleae. This particular die, however, is enigmatic. Instead of dots denoting the values one to six, each of the sides is carved with Latin words, inlaid with lead and silver based paint. The six sides read:
P / VA / EST / ORTI / VRBIS / ITALIA
If read in sequence this very (very) roughly translates as ‘P[ublius] is arisen from the city Italy’. Only five other lettered dice of this nature are known from across the Roman Empire – four from France and one from Hungary. All have similar formulae of lettering, but with slightly different words in each case. No one has elucidated the exact nature of this game and we don’t even know if they were used with counters, a board or in combination with other lettered dice. Looks like this artefact remains a mystery, even once we've worked out what it is.