In the 1990s, Muslim religious authorities removed thousands of tons of dirt from the Temple Mount, with complete disregard for preserving the integrity of any possible archaeological findings therein. Seventeen years ago, Israeli scholars began a project to sift through the discarded soil for ancient artifacts, inviting volunteers to join in. Daniel Tzvi describes a playing die found by one such amateur:
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.
But this particular die . . . is missing the number four. In its place, the number five appears twice. On the one hand, the four and the five are very similar, and if we assume that some novice apprentice die-maker got confused, it would probably be on these numbers. On the other hand, 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.
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.