Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Etruscan 4 and 6

The authors of a forthcoming article in Archaeometry use a new approach to assign values to the ambiguous Etruscan words sa and huth (4 and 6, respectively). The abstract follows:
The graphical and linguistic interpretation of the first six Etruscan numerals has long been confronted with the ambiguous assignment of the words huth and sa to either 4 or 6. Here, we show how the systematic combinatorial analysis of the numerals appearing on ancient southern Etrurian dice dated from the eighth to the third centuries bc, together with the careful comparison of the results with the only two existing dice carrying the alphabetical translations of the numerals conserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, finally allows unambiguous mathematical resolution of the linguistic riddle, allowing the firm attribution of the numeral 6 to the graphical value huth and 4 to sa. Combinatorial analysis of the numerals distribution on the six faces of the die shows that only two of the 15 possible numerical combinations were actually in use in southern Etruria, and that during the fifth century bc there was a marked shift from the typical (1–2, 3–4, 5–6) combination used in the early seventh- to fifth-century bc dice to the (1–6, 2–5, 3–4) combination used at later times and still largely adopted today. The largest body of archaeometric data on dice specimens from Etruria is presented, based on macroscopic examination, X-ray diffraction, DRIFT spectroscopy and density measurements.
Artioli, G., Nociti, V. and Angelini, I. (2011), Gambling with Etruscan Dice: A Tale of Numbers and Letters. Archaeometry. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4754.2011.00596.x

1 comment:

Glen Gordon said...

TLE 181 is one of the very few inscriptions with an age counted in both years and months. It reads: Vipinanas Vel, clante Ultnas La(r)θal clan, avils XX tivrs śas. meaning "Vel Vipinana, the adopted son of Ultna, son of Larth, at the age of 20 (and) six months."

It's more natural to suppose here that tivrs śas reads 'of six months' since six months is an even half-year. One has to admit that reading the numeral as 'four' here is less likely. Why would an additional four months be needed to be expressed? The man was simply 20 and a half years old.