Great mysteries of archaeology

These flat ceramic disks were either playing pieces for an ancient Roman game, or, possibly, really uncomfortable toilet paper. Scientists are investigating.


  1. I’m an archaeologist, and I can tell you that mysterious ceramic discs are a common problem throughout the world.  We don’t know what to make of them, so we don’t usually talk about them much in published work. 

    I work mostly in the Andean region.  I’ve worked at sites where every house we excavated had at least one mystery disc.  Oftentimes we find small pieces (ranging from about 2 to 15 cm, usually around 5 cm) that have been rounded out of broken pieces of dishes.  Sometimes, these are perforated in the center, so they were likely to be improvised spindle whorls or loom weights.  But what about all the ones that aren’t perforated?  And the ones that are squarish, triangular, or oval?

    If they’re game pieces, why aren’t they found in groups or matched sets?  If they are money chits, they are certainly easy to counterfeit.  (Also, currency was not used in the area prehistorically, as far as we know.)   The ones I’m talking about are too small for wiping your butt, I would think.  Maybe you could use them as nail files?  Or for grinding spices in a small mortar? 

    Maybe they aren’t for anything at all– bored people just grinding down the edges of broken pottery as a form of fidgeting?  But they are so widespread, and people had plenty of actually useful fidgety tasks, like spinning.

    Anyway, the next time I find some I won’t wash them, and maybe we can get some residue off them.

  2. I once went camping in the desert and had to wipe my butt with a rock. It was not a smooth rock, either.

      1. Went camping in the backcountry alone, forgot to bring TP. Being a desert, there were no nice bunches of smooth vegetation around, or even smooth stones. I had to use what was available at hand. Crumbly weathered granite. It was more like scraping than wiping, actually.

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