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Greek girls playing knucklebones (ca. 200 BC, now in British Museum)

Greek girls playing knucklebones (ca. 200 BC, now in British Museum)

Gambling games were very popular all over the world from as early as we can tell. People played games with knucklebones. Knucklebones are the vertebrae (the backbone) of medium-sized animals like sheep or goats, and the games you play with them are like jacks (In fact you can still find jacks shaped like knucklebones some places).

Roman boys tossing nuts (tomb of Lucius Aemilius Daphnus, ca. 300 AD)

Roman boys tossing nuts (tomb of Lucius Aemilius Daphnus, ca. 300 AD)

You can also play similar gambling games just with small stones, or with nuts, like these little boys in ancient Rome. And people also played games with modern-looking dice as early as ancient Egypt.

Children have also played with dolls since before there were even humans, when chimpanzees played with sticks.

A Roman doll with jointed arms and legs

A Roman doll with jointed arms and legs

In ancient Rome and China, some dolls were made of wood and some of clay and bone and ivory. Some dolls had jointed legs and arms, so the children could move them. Others are all in one piece. This jointed ivory doll is from Tarragona in Spain.

Aztec pull toy, ca. 1500 AD

Aztec pull toy, ca. 1500 AD

Children had many other toys too: rattles, and little wooden horses and wagons on wheels that you could pull along on a string, and wooden blocks that they could stack up and knock down.

Learn by doing: play a game of jacks
More about the history of board games

Bibliography and further reading about ancient and medieval games:

Chinese games (Kung Fu)
Roman games (Gladiators)
West Asian games (Gambling and horse races)
Egyptian games (Dice)
Greek games (Olympics)
Islamic games (Polo and Chess)
Medieval games (Tournaments)
North American games (Lacrosse)
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