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Cache of Animal Bones Used in Games During Hellenistic Period Found in Israel

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

Dr. Lee Perry-Gal holding gaming dice from the Hellenistic period discovered in southern Israel. Photo: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

An “exceptionally large collection” of 530 animal knuckle bones from the Hellenistic period, some 2,300 years ago, have been found in southern Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Monday

Astragali, made from the knuckle bones of goats, sheep, and cattle, were used in gaming and attempts to portend the future, primarily by women and children. The collection was first discovered a few years ago by Dr. Ian Stern in a large cave complex beneath the ruins of the ancient city of Maresha, located in Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park.

Some of the bones were shaped or filled with lead so they could be thrown like dice. Many were engraved with the names of figures from Greek mythology, including Aphrodite and Hermes, while other bones bore engravings indicating their use in gaming, such as “Robber,” Stop!,” and “You are burnt.”

The quantity and good quality of the astragali, and the many inscriptions found in the assemblage, was described as “very unique” by Dr. Lee Perry-Gal, a zooarchaeologist with IAA and a research fellow at the University of Haifa. There are example of children being buried with similar cubes, which were a popular gaming activity, she added.

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Eli Eskosido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the findings shed “light on the life and customs in the ancient world and reminds us that people are regular people all over the world.”

“They dream and hope, and notwithstanding the harshness of daily life, they find time for playing and leisure,” he said.

Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park, which also features a Roman amphitheater and a Crusader fortress, among other ruins, was declared in 1989 and listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2014.

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