Israeli archaeologists have discovered the unusual purpose behind 600 Hellenistic-era dice fashioned from the talus bones of ancient livestock.
The animal bone dice were found several years ago in the city of Maresha, women and children used the dice like jacks or in games of chance.
Some players even polished them or filled them with lead to achieve a better roll. In other instances, they used the dice, also known as astragali, to predict the future and talk with gods,
Archaeologist Ian Stern originally discovered the bones and thought they had been saved after butchering for repurposing.
“The site was first excavated by Bliss and Macalister in 1902,Main excavations were carried out over the past 30 years, until 2000 by Amos Kloner, and from 2001 to the present by Ian Stern and Bernie Alpert.”
Phrases, like “you are burned” or “a measure of the arm,” appear, which are similar to tarot cards.
Some researchers speculate the messages could be meaningful in games like Five Stones,
“in which five astragali were thrown up in the air to be caught by the hand,”
Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1560 painting Children’s Games depicts girls engaged in just that.
The researchers found these 600 dice in a section of 13 excavated cave rooms that also housed 81 incense altars, 780 intact oil lamps, and 137 divination texts.
“It’s clear that the astragali were used not as playthings, nor in general cult practice, but rather in a very specific way”
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