Fisherman Catches Sacred Math Cubes, Internet Goes on Scavenger Hunt

Caroline Delbert
Photo credit: WillRead8888/Imgur

From Popular Mechanics

  • A man and his kids found 60 dice-like lead tokens in a shallow river in England.
  • Magnet fishing is a popular pastime, offering a chance to pull out artifacts or even ammunition.
  • There's no sign of how old these cubes are, but they're part of a Hindu astrological ritual.

Locals and Redditors alike are baffled by a haul of 60 elaborately engraved silver metal cubes pulled from the River Sowe in Coventry in central England. A keen-eyed Redditor has identified them as fortunetelling cubes used in a special kind of Hindu prayer. As for the rest of the details—how they got there, why no one retrieved them after the ritual, and how old they might be—no one knows.

Will Read was magnet fishing with his young children when he found the cubes. Experts sometimes warn people not to magnet fish, which is just what it sounds like, because magnets can pull items like unspent ammunition or grenades from the bottom of bodies of water. In this case, Read and his kids found the lead blocks in shallow water, no magnets required. (Lead isn’t really magnetic anyway.)

The oldest known lead artifacts date back 6,000 years, and dating some random lead items found in a river will require an expert. The fact that they’re Hindu makes a difference, but people moving from India to England date back 500 years to Elizabethan times. While lead leaches into drinking water based on many factors including pH, temperature, and how old the pipes are, some lead items sitting in cool, fresh water could last a very long time.

So what are these mysterious cubes? One thorough answer on Reddit explains that they appear to be prayer tokens of a sort. In Hindu astrology, as in Greco-Roman and others, the classical planets each have a representation. And the classical elements are linked with planets as well, intertwined in the histories of alchemy and fortunetelling. In Roman astrology, lead is the element linked with Saturn—the planet as well as the god. In Hindu astrology, lead is linked with one side of the moon’s orbit, known as Rahu.

Photo credit: WillRead8888/Imgur
Photo credit: WillRead8888/Imgur

Something people noted about the cubes is that they’re engraved with magic squares. These are grids of integers with properties that resemble and exceed sudoku grids: each row, column, and diagonal adds up to the same universal value. Within Hindu worship, these can be used as yantra, or sacred grids or geometries. Rahu’s yantra appears on these cubes, indicating they were designed to be used as prayers or offerings to Rahu in particular.

Without any contextual information, how can scientists tell how old these cubes are? For a long time, even experts couldn’t accurately gauge the age of lead artifacts. That was a huge source of frustration because lead dates back so far in human history. A process called voltammetry is now used for processes related to lead, both to detect levels in water and to date artifacts to within 150 years.

That may not sound very precise—but when the oldest examples date back six millennia, 150 years is pretty damn good. It just may not reveal much about some sacred cubes found in a river in central England.

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