KNUCKLEBONES - playing with bones
This game will be produced as special design exclusively for museums. If you are running a museumshop or offer programms in a museums, where this game might be useful, please contact us. We will be please to send you an offer.
Knucklebones, Astragale (from the ancient Greek), or Tali (from Latin) is one of the oldest games and is still played today in some cultures. The earliest evidence comes from the Iron Age (5000 B.C.). It is unknown if these bones were used for playing games. It was discovered, however, that the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen was buried (around 1345-1335 B.C.) with knucklebones as part of a board game. Archeological excavations have unearthed numerous knucklebones in Greek and Roman settlements and graves.
The bones are a part of the ankles of hind legs from cloven hoofed animals. These bones accumulated through the sacrifice or butchering of sheep, goats or wild animals. Knucklebones were considered particularly valuable and were also replicated with other materials such as gold, silver, glass, ivory, clay and wood. Because of their unmistakable sides and nearly cubic, handy form, they were used for playing games. There are various (unfortunately not always complete) rules handed down for games of skill and games of dice. Even today, some of the rules are still in use. A selection of these rules is printed on this page. Additional game instructions are available at the producer’s website (www.papaeowerkstatt.de). If you keep your eyes open on vacation in France, Greece, Turkey or other countries in the near-east, for example, you can find fellow players. Even today, playing a game together can connect. We hope you have a great time with it.
Games of Skill
Pentelitha– the Five Stone Game
(Greek: pente = 5 and lithos = stone)
(Recorded by the Greek scholar Pollux in the second century A.D.)
It is played with only one hand. Five knucklebones are thrown into the air with one hand and caught on the back of the same hand. The knucklebones that fall down are then picked up with the same hand without letting the knucklebones on top fall down.
You take turns playing. Every white knucklebone counts for 5 points, when lying on the back of the hand; the red knucklebone counts for 10 points. You only get the points, however, if you collect the other knucklebones as well, without letting any of the other knucklebones fall off your hand. If that happens, it’s the next person’s turn. Whoever reaches 100 points first, wins.
A Variation from France
This variation is played with one hand. One knucklebone is placed on the ground, the red knucklebone (the père = father) is placed in a hand. You throw that one into the air, grab the one on the ground with the throwing hand and grab the father in the air before it falls. The goal in the end is to have both knucklebones in the same hand. You play the same way with two, three and, in the end, four knucklebones on the ground. One further possibility is to throw two, three and, in the end, four knucklebones in the air, while only picking up one. This is a game of skill that requires practice and makes more than children competitive.
(Pronounced: beshtash, Turkish: bes = 5, tas = stone)
The current five stone game from Turkey.
8 stages; It is played with only one hand.
1. Stage: Five knucklebones are thrown on the ground. The red knucklebone is then thrown into the air and the others are picked up by the same hand, one after another, before the red knucklebone is caught. You can the “father” once for every knucklebone that you pick up.
2. Stage: The “father” is thrown into the air and the other knucklebones are picked up in pairs.
3. Stage: The “father” is thrown into the air; one, then three knucklebones are picked up at once.
4. Stage: The “father” is thrown into the air; all four knucklebones have to be picked up at once.
5. Stage: The left hand (with left-handers, the right hand) is placed on the thumb and middle finger so that a bridge appears. In addition, the index finger is placed over the middle finger.
The following is repeated in the next stages: Five knucklebones are thrown and one of them is chosen as the throwing bone. The player picks out a trump knucklebone (Turkish: ebe, pronounced abay) that has to stay in place till the end. Now the throwing knucklebone has to be thrown into the air and other knucklebones have to be pushed through the bridge, one after another. Then the throwing knucklebone has to be caught. You get three tries for every knucklebone. The “ebe” is last. Here you only get one try.
6. Stage: Finger and thumb from your free hand are placed on the ground so that a cave appears. Like in the last stage, the knucklebones have to be pushed into the cave. Once they are all inside, the need to be grabbed all at once, like in the fourth stage.
7. Stage: Place the free hand on you fingertips with spread-out fingers, so that a fence appears. The four knucklebones on the ground have to be pushed, one after another, through the four spaces between the fingers under the hand. Then they have to be gathered in one hand.
8. Stage: The free hand should be placed on the ground with spread-out fingers so that the knucklebones on the ground can be pushed through the space between the fingers – while the throwing knucklebone is in the air.
Now the knucklebones have to be held like that. The other person playing now says, “scoop” or “grab.” The player then throws all four knucklebones up together and catches them either with cupped hand from below (“scooped”) or from above (“grabbed”).
(For 2 players)
Is played with two to five knucklebones, depending on the size of the hand.
Each player secretly takes a certain number of knucklebones in his hand.
The other player has to guess how many knucklebones are in the hand. If the player guesses right, it’s his turn and he challenges the other player.
Games of Dice
Every knucklebone has four sides. Each side corresponds to a certain number of points. Look very closely at the bones. Because animals have two hind legs, there are two different knucklebones that are nearly reflective. Still, every side is unique.
The curved, small side is called “dog.” It counts for one point.
The wide, convex side is called the “belly.” It counts for four points.
The wide concave, side is called the “back.” It counts for three points.
The flat, small side is called “chios.” It counts for six points.
Roll the Most Game
(For two players)
The goal of the game is roll more points than the other player and win the stakes.
The knucklebones are used as dice. The side on the top indicates the number of points. Every player has ten objects for example, nuts, stones, or the knucklebones themselves, like earlier. These are a player’s stockpiles. The player begins each round with one object and places it as a stake in the middle. The youngest player begins. He rolls and remembers the number – the points from two knucklebones are added in this game – then it’s the other player turn. Whoever has the most points gets to keep the stakes. Then the round starts. A player has lost if he has used up his stockpiles, the game is over.
There is one special rule with the two knucklebones according to a traditional saying:
The combination “dog” and “chios” counts for one point, not seven. That makes it the worst throw, but also statistically least frequent.
The Roman Caesar Augustus’ Rules
(For 2-4 players)
This game is played with four knucklebones. The goal is the game is to win the stake with the “Venus” roll.
The “Venus” roll is the combination of “dog” (one point), “back” (three points), “belly” (four points) and “chios” (six points), so 1-3-4-6. The knucklebones are used as dice. The side on top indicates the number of points. The knucklebones are used as dice. The side on the top indicates the number of points. Every player has ten objects for example, nuts, stones, or the knucklebones themselves, like earlier. These are a player’s stockpiles.
The players take turns throwing and the youngest player begins. The player has to place one object from his stockpile in the middle for every time a “dog” or “chios” is rolled. They collect until a player rolls a “Venus” roll. This player now gets to take all of the objects out from the middle. Then object start to collect in the middle until the “Venus” is rolled. The game is over when one player doesn’t have any more objects. The player with the most objects wins.
(Variation from Greece for two players)
Knucklebones are used as dice. The side on top indicates the number of points. Every player has ten objects for example, nuts, stones, or the knucklebones themselves, like earlier. These are a player’s stockpiles. Every player plays with two knucklebones. The youngest player starts. First one knucklebone is rolled, then the other. If the first knucklebone doesn’t give many points, the other one can be thrown against it so that it changes. Whoever has the highest number of total points wins and receives an object from the other player’s stockpile. But be careful: if the first knucklebone is a “chios” (six points) and the next one a “dog” (one point), then the entire roll doesn’t count.
Other Special Rules
(For 3 – 4 players)
The knucklebones are used as dice. The side on the top indicates the number of points. Every player has ten objects for example, nuts, stones, or the knucklebones themselves, like earlier. These are a player’s stockpiles. The game is played with two knucklebones and the players take turns like in the Greek variation. The player with the most points receives one object from each of the players with a lesser roll. Sometimes more than one player rolls the highest number of points. Then they each have to give one to the player with the lowest roll. In a game with four players, if two roll the highest and the other two have the same low roll, then it is a stalemate and the round doesn’t count.
These game instructions received technical support from Marianne Hilke (The Rhineland Regional Council, Archaeological Park Xanten) and Ulrich Schädler (The Swiss Museum of Games, La Tour-de-Peilz).