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Dice play became fairer over 2,000 years: study

Press Trust of India  |  Los Angeles 

Dice have changed over the last 2,000 years to be more fair, according to a study which found that dice made during Roman times were highly variable in shape, size, material and configuration of numbers.

Researchers at University of California, Davis found that in early medieval times, dice were often "unbalanced" in the arrangement of numbers, where 1 appears opposite 2, 3 opposite 4, and 5 opposite 6.

It did not matter what the objects were made of (metal, clay, bone, antler and ivory), or whether they were precisely symmetrical or consistent in size or shape, because, like the weather, rolls were predetermined by supernatural elements, they said.

All that began to change around 1450 AD, when dice makers and players seemingly figured out that form affected function, researchers said.

"A new worldview was emerging - the Renaissance. People like Galileo and Blaise Pascal were developing ideas about chance and probability, and we know from written records in some cases they were actually consulting with gamblers," said Jelmer Eerkens, professor at University of California, Davis.

"We think users of dice also adopted new ideas about fairness, and chance or probability in games," said Eerkens, lead author of the study published in the journal Acta Archaeologica.

"Standardising the attributes of a die, like symmetry and the arrangement of numbers, may have been one method to decrease the likelihood that an unscrupulous player had manipulated the dice to change the odds of a particular roll," Eerkens said.

Dice are not common finds in archaeological sites, researchers said.

They are typically found in garbage, domestic areas, or cemeteries, and frequently are recovered as lone objects in a site. Many are not accurately dated, Eerkens said.

After looking at hundreds of dice in dozens of museums and archaeological depots across the Netherlands, Eerkens and his co-author, Alex de Voogt, of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, were able to assemble and analyse a set of 110 carefully dated, cube-shaped dice.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Wed, January 31 2018. 18:06 IST
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