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Ancient Egyptian games: Children's games found and described by W.M.Flinders Petrie
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Games

From the First Memoir of the Egyptian Research Account
Ballas by J.E. Quibel and W.M.Flinders Petrie

    In a large grave of a child (No.100) was found the group of stone balls etc, shewn below. They are here represented as being placed on a board, only to point the perspective of the group. Their original arrangement is quite unknown, as they were found loose in the earth and gravel filling of the grave which had been plundered. They lay near the middle of the west side, at a few inches above the floor. I was present when they were found, and searched carefully so as to obtain them all. The nine vase shaped stones we thought to belong to a necklace at first; they are cut in alabaster and veined breccia; none of them are pierced for suspension, and they can only stand on their circular flat ends. With them were four balls of porphyry, well made for such refractory material. This leads us to suppose that the nine vase-shaped pieces were to stand on end, and to be played at with the balls, which are just suited in size and weight for such a purpose.. With these were three square slips of veined grey marble, two exactly alike and one longer. This naturally suggests a gate or trilithon to play through, and the width of it is such as to offer some little difficulty to the player in avoiding overthrowing the miniature trilithon in driving the ball through it.
    So far I had restored this game of skittles the day I found it; and I was greatly interested to hear from Mr.Carter, that in Norfolk skittles are played through a gateway of logs of wood, which must not be upset by the player. This trilithon type of the game therefore still survives. What the history of skittles may be no one has yet ascertained; it appears to be a thoroughly European game, nor have I heard of it in the East.
 
Skittles
    Another game was found by Mr. Quibel with figures of a hare and four lions, rectangular blocks of bone and limestone, natural spherules of ironstone, and long strips of ivory, some with diagonal lines, some with a carving of a leaf-bract in the middle, some rods with knots and leaf-bract, and some plain rods.There is an obvious similarity of idea between these slips, with a leaf-bract carved on one side, and the slips of palm-stick with one outer side and one inner, which are now used in Egypt for casting lots in games. It seems as if the group of ivory slips would be cast on the ground, as the six slips of palm-stick are now used by the boys, and the number that lay with the bract side up would be counted as the throw. We might even conjecture that such counted throws would be taken as steps by the lions chasing the hare, as the lion and hare game probably depended on luck and not on skill.
Lions and Hare
    Similar games appear to have been played in other games. In 1215 there were 14 porphyry and 2 breccia balls, a bar (like that of the trilithon) of porphyry, 6 slips of ivory with a bract carved on one side, and 1 slip with diagonal lines, with 3 or 4 rods of ivory.
    In 1229 were 4 blocks of ivory 1.2 to 1.25 inches long x .27 x .16, 3 rods (one entire 5.045 long), and 1 slip marked with diagonal lines.
    In 379 were 5 syenite balls (rude) and an alabaster bar. in T 10 was a breccia bar; in 83 a slate bar; in 10 another stone bar. Syenite balls were found in 1209 (5), in 1246 (2), in 1239 and in 472. Three syenite balls and 3 minute triangles of slate (from inlaying?) in 399. And in 267 were 7 spherules of iron-stone and 2 spindles of tops of fine limestone well polished..
    Thus in fourteen graves (all plundered) more or less objects were found, such as seem to belong to games; and it is plain therefore that they are not merely isolated freaks, but that they belong to well-recognised amusements.

    Another class of toys seem to be shewn in figures VII, 3 to 7. These are at first sight like the stone mace-heads; but they differ from those in being all of limestone or soft sandstone having, therefore, not the weight or the strength to give a blow, and in being all painted with black sectors or dots, which show that they were not funeral imitations of mace-heads.
 
Spinning tops
    As they were evidently fitted on to a stick, they seem likely to be spinning-tops, very probably derived from the familiar spindle. That they are not actual spindles is shewn by their being different from the numerous spindles found in the town of the New Race, and by being painted in a manner that no spindles are. On making copies in card and spinning them, a flickering effect is produced, and traces of the recently discovered chromatic effect due to alternations of black and white.


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November 2002