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The main halls and secured vaults of museums around the world are loaded with vast arrays of grotesque antique weapons, golden lined velvet robes, ceremonial swords and crowns, jewel encrusted scepters and other adult treasures and artifacts. Toys, play paraphernalia and games from the most remote past are generally assigned a shelf or a dusty cabinet but kites, balls, yo-yos and stick dolls wrapped in cloth have been discovered across the face of the planet, proving that children’s imaginations have always mimicked real life.
Cycladic Art Museum, Athens, Greece.
The oldest toys ever found were excavated by archaeologists in ancient Sumer; hand crafted human dolls and animals dated to 2600 BC, and in ancient Indus Valley clay animal-figures on wheels were dated to around 2500 BC. The earliest written record of toys was made in ancient Greece about 500 BC in a mention of ‘yo-yos’ being crafted from wood and metal for play and a painted Greek vase dated to 440 BC shows a boy playing with a terra cotta yo-yo disk which were often ceremonially offered to gods when the child owner came of age.
Little horse on wheels (Ancient Greek child's Toy). From tomb dating 950-900 BC. Kerameikos Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Greek children used a wide range of toys including; the Stromvos spinning top; Platagi rattle in the shape of a pig, Athyrma pig and horse figurines, and Spheria, which were glass marbles. An article published on the Archaeological Museum of Chania website informs that Greek girls and boys played a point gathering game called ‘the guts’ (ankles) and Ephedrismos was another popular game meaning ‘sit upon’ in which two players each placed an upright stone on the ground and threw stones at them from a distance.
Another popular game was known as ostrakinda in which Greek children colored half of a shell black representing the night while the uncolored side was day. Players tossed their shells and the side whose color came up chased the other team, just like ‘tag’.
When Children Came out to Play: Ancient Toys and Games - History
History of Marbles
Marbles have been made of round stones, clay balls, marble, porcelain, glass and steel. Toy makers have found increasingly ingeneous methods for making marbles that are beautiful, durable, inexpensive, and fun.
We are going to look at how the marbles have been made. Of course, we make marbles for play, so we'll look at how people have played with marbles.
American Toy Marble Museum
The American Toy Marble Museum is located in Akron Ohio, where some of the earliest american marbles were produced. The American Marble and Toy Manufacturing Company was founded by Samuel C. Dyke in 1891 in Akron. The museum displays a wide range of marbles and other toys and tools from the industry.
Archaeologists speculate that the small clay balls found in the pyramid tombs of Egyptian kinds were produced for marble games. It is thought that the Aztecs played a form of marbles. Clay marbles have been found in prehistoric pueblo ruins in the southwestern United States, in the classic periods Valley of Mexico ruins, and in the northern plains.
The British Museum in London displays marbles of clay, stone and flint that date back to ancient Roman and Egyption civilizations.
In Ancient Greece and Rome, children played games with round nuts, and Jewish children played games with filberts at Passorver. The Latin expression "relinguere nuces" - putting away childish things - probably refers to the polished nuts in these games. Although most early marble games were played with stone and nuts, some early Roman glass spheres have been found in Europe. Whether they were intended for jewelery or served as childrens' toys is not known.
A second century roman, Athenaeus writes of a game of marbles in which the suitors of Penelope in the Odysseey shot their alleys against another marble representing the queen. The first player to hit the queen marble had another turn, and if he was successful again he was considered to be the probable bridegroom.
Glass marbles are thought to have been some of the many glass objects made in ninth century Venice, but it is not until the late middle ages that the playing of marbles games is again documented. It appears that by then marbles were known throughout Europe. A manustript from the fifteenth centruy refers to 'little balls with which schoolboys played". In 1503 the town council of Nurenberg, Germany, limited the playing of marble games to a meadow outside of town.
The popularity of marbles in England during the Middle Ages is evidenced in the town council statues of the village of Saint Gall, which othorized the user of a cat-o-nin-tails on boys who played marbles under the fish stand and refused to be warned off". A painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, "Children's Games" dated 1560 shows a scene of children playing marbles.
Archeologists have discovered marbles in the ruins of homes from this period, including the home of protestant Martin Luther.
In 1720 Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe wrote of a marble player "so dexterous an artist at shooting the tittle alabaster globe.. that he seldom missed."
Toward the end of the nineteenth century American entrepreneurs began to vie for a share of the German-dominated marble industry. Early attempts to compete with Germain production of handmade marbles provided commercially unsuccessful.
James Leighton, who founded and worked for a variety of turn of the century marbles companies, developed a new tool, a mold on a pair of tongs. This tool made it possible to create glass marbles that had only one pontil, the rough mark left on the glass when it was removed from a long steel rod called the punty. These marbles, today known as transitions, were a first step on the path top producing machine made marbles. They were made between 1896 and 1901.
The first truly machine made marbles were manufactured by an inventive Danish immigrant, Martin Frederick Christensen around the turn of the century. By the 1920s, machine -made marbles had supplanted the imports from Germany. World War 1 closed down many German marble mills, and they were never reopened. Imported German handmade marbles were to become a thing of the past as twentieth century progressed, bringing with it automation and mass production.
Marbles as we know them today began in the mid 1800's when they were produced in quantities in Germany. The name marble originates with the type of stone that was once used to make marbles. White marble, alabaster marbles were the best playing pieces during the early 1800s. German hand production continued until the earliest forms of machine production began in the early 1900's.
M.F. Christensen and Son – In 1900 Martin Frederick Christensen patented a machine that revolutionized the manufacture of steel ball bearings. Using the same principles, he went on to design a machine that would make balls from glass. It took a team of two people to operate. When marbles were to consist of two or more colors, it was necessary to melt the glass in separate pots of color and then pour them into a third pot to be stirred. A worker would then gather some of the molten glass on a puny, allowing the glass to drip downward over each set of wheels. The other worker would use a tool to shear off the exact amount of glass to make the size marble being produced. Ten thousand marbles could be produced in a ten hour day. With this machine and the glass formulas he acquired from Leighton, Christensen established in Ohio the first company to manufacture machine made glass marbles.
Akro Agate Company – established in Akron Ohio in 1911, the Akro Agate Company originally packaged and sold marbles it purchased in bulk from M.F. Christensen and Son. By 1915, the company was making its own marbles at its marble works in West Virginia. Their significant contribution was the introduction of an automatic cutoff of hot glass, which further automated the machinery by eliminating hand gathering of glass.
The Golden Age of Marbles
The decade that spanned the late 1920s and 1930s is referred to by collectors as the Golden Age of Marbles. On gets a sense of how popular marbles were when one notes that West Virginia companies such as Master Marble, Vitro Agate, Alox Manufacturing and Champion Agate went into business and made a profit during a time in America when thousands of other businesses failed.
Peltier Glass Company – Sellers and Joseph Peltier learned glassmaking from their French immigrant father, Victor, who specialized in stained glass. When a fire destroyed their Novelty Glass Company factory, the two brothers rebuilt the glassworks and renamed it the Pelterier Glass Company. In the early 1920's, Peltier Glass began to make a line of marbles producing brightly colored slags, swirls, corkscrews, and agates. It became one of the leading marble manufacturers from the 1920s to the 1940s. In addition to its regular line of marbles, Pelteir produced picture marbles, a popular series of twelve marbles that each had a decal of a contemporary comic-strip characters such as Betty Boop and Any Gump. Today these marbles are known to collectors as comics. The Peltier Glass Company is still manufacturing marbles in Ottawa Illinois.
Christensen Agate Company – Christensen glass was founded in 1925 and produced some of the most beautiful early machine made marbles. Victims of the early years of the Great Depression, Christensen Agate went out of business in 1933. Because of its short existence and the company's limited capacity, Christiensen marbles are relative scarce. Today this company's guineas, cobras, flames, slags, and opaque swirls are among the most valuable and sought after machine made marbles.
Ravenswood Novelty Company – Founded in 1929 in Ravens wood West Virginia by Charles Turnbull, the Ravenswood Novelty Company produced ceramics as well as marbles. According to company records, Ravenswood produced around one hundred million marbles per year. When Ravenswood was unable to compete with the Japanese Cat's eyes that flooded the market in the early 1950's, the company went out of business.
Modern Marbles and Games
Today you can find hand made glass marbles made by artists from around the world, and machine made marbles produced in vast quantities.
The centuries old composition of glass used for handmade marbles, sand, soda ash and lime is the same basic glass used for machine made marbles. Other ingredients added include zinc oxide, aluminum hydrate, and various coloring agents. In the manufacturing process, the glass is melted in a large furnace to a temperature of 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit for up to twenty-eight hours, until it reaches the consistency of molasses. At this point, the molten batter pours through an opening in the furnace, where shears cut the glass into equal pieces. These pieces move through rollers and cool rapidly, hardening into marbles as they are transported. They then drop into metal containers for annealing. Once cooled, the marbles are inspected, sorted, and packaged for sale.
Billions of machine-made marbles have been produced during this century. Machine-made marbles reached the peak of their popularity in the late 1920s and 1930s when competition between manufacturers made marbles plentiful and cheap. American manufacturers dominated the marble market until the introduction of Japanese cat's-eye marbles in the 1950s. Their enormous popularity over the next decade cause many American By the 1960's interest in marbles had waned.
Contemporary Marble Makers
Marbles still appeal to people of all ages. Kids and adults love to play, collect and trade them. So long as marbles have this natural appeal, there will be marble makers. Marbles are still poduced in vast quanties by several marble manufacturers. There are also a large number of artist, hobbyists, and glass shops who produce fine art marbles.
9 Traditional Chinese Toys And Games
Yesterday was China’s Children’s Day, a holiday specifically for children. As we’ve mentioned before, there are some cultural differences in how Chinese children are raised, especially on being conditioned not to say “I love you” or being raised under extremely strict parents. However, another cultural difference is the games and toys that children (and adults!) play with in China.
While iPads, Gameboys and Playstations are all the rage now, they usually aren’t allowed in many school yards. These items are also not available to kids and teenagers in many rural districts. So, what games do the kids in China play in their spare time?
We’ve compiled a list of traditional Chinese toys and games:
毽子 (JIÀN ZI) SHUTTLECOCK
While the term “shuttlecock” usually refers to the ball in badminton, it is also often used to refer to this feather-covered toy. The shuttlecock is essentially a weighted hacky-sack, and is passed from foot to foot by kicking. The object is to keep it from touching the ground. Besides being played in the schoolyard, it is also very popular among the senior citizens as a way to keep their limbs active.
Shuttlecock has evolved into a formal sport of it’s own. It is played with a net, and is similar to volleyball if volleyball was played primarily with feet.
抖空竹 (DǑU KŌNG ZHÚ) CHINESE YO-YO
Also known as diabolo, the Chinese Yo-yo is an hourglass shaped item that is spun on a string. The string is connected to two hand sticks. The way to get the diabolo to balance and rotate is to move the hand sticks up and down alternatively. Because of this, the Chinese refer to the playing of the diabolo as, “抖空竹”, or “shake the diabolo.” Players with higher skill can toss the yo-yo up and catch it on the strings, or manipulate the strings into patterns while keeping the yo-yo spinning.
空竹 literally means “empty bamboo.” Diabolos were originally constructed out of bamboo, and the cups were hollow in the middle.
The Chinese Yo-Yo is also used frequently in performances, often where acrobatics are involved. The famous acrobatic troupe, Cirque Du Soleil, employs Chinese Yo-yos in several of their acts.
跳皮筋 (TIÀO PÍ JĪN) CHINESE JUMP ROPE
The Chinese jump rope resembles more of a giant stretched out rubber band. It is a thin piece of elastic rope that is loops around two pairs of legs.
Unlike the Western jump rope, the object of this game is to hook your legs into the rope to form loops and patterns in a certain sequence. This is often accompanied by a rhyme or song. As each level is completed, the rope is moved higher, making the patterns more difficult to complete.
抓拐 (ZHUĀ GUǍI) KNUCKLEBONES
This is a game very similar to “jacks” in Western culture. “拐” refers to a piece of bone, often from the thigh joint of a sheep or pig. Children often save them from the dinner table. Just like jacks, a ball or tiny beanbag is tossed up during play. The rules vary, but one of the main objectives is to “turn” all four bones right side up before you catch the beanbag.
In ancient times, this game was strongly encouraged among young girls in order to practice the nimbleness of their fingers. The more nimble their fingers, the more skilled they would be at the loom and embroidery.
蝈蝈 (GUŌ GUŌ) ANT-CRICKET
Though not a game, the Guo Guo is often seen as a toy for young children. Thought to be symbols of good luck, these vibrant green crickets are often caught and trapped in whimsical containers. They are known for their melodious “singing.” Some containers are specifically designed to amplify these tunes. During the summer months, you can often see them being sold at markets in China.
“Crickee,” the lucky cricket that Mulan had in the Disney movie, was most likely a Guo Guo. (Want to know more odd facts about Mulan? Read our blog post.)
The Guo Guo is one of two insects depicted on the famous Qing Dynasty Jadeite Cabbage carving. The other insect is a katydid. The sculpture is on display at the National Palace Museum in Taiwan.
斗蛐蛐 (DÒU QŪ QŪ) CRICKET BATTLING
This particular game may offend some animal lovers, but it is quite popular in rural areas of China. Crickets are put in an enclosed “arena” (usually a clear bowl or box.) The players agitate their crickets by prodding the crickets’ antenna with a stick, so they become aggressive. The crickets are made to fight until one runs from the other, stops chirping, or is thrown from the ring or even consumed by the other cricket.
Many adults also participate in cricket fighting, and some even breed crickets specifically for battle. The cricket battling season takes place between August and September, as these insects rarely live through the fall season.
You may notice that the word “斗” for cricket battling (斗蛐蛐) looks similar to “抖” for playing the Chinese yo-yo (抖空竹.)
斗 dòu (fourth tone) means “to fight.” It is also used in the term for bullfighting, which is “斗牛 (dòu niú)”
抖 dǒu (third tone) means “to shake.” “颤抖 (chàn dǒu)” means “shiver,” usually in fear or cold.
乒乓 (PĪNG PĀNG) PING PONG
Ping Pong is available in almost every schoolyard. Not only is it a national sport of China, but it is also fairly cheap in terms of setup and supplies. You don’t need to construct or pave a court. The tables used in ping pong are portable, and they can fold up to save space. Ping pong is the most played recreational sport in China, with over 300 million players.
Despite China’s skill in this particular sport, it is actually not a Chinese invention. However, football is. Check out these other odd Chinese inventions.
羽毛球 (YǓ MÁO QIǓ) BADMINTON
Another relatively cheap sport, badminton is also very popular among Chinese kids. In many schoolyards, it is played without a net, with rules similar to hacky sack. The goal of the game is to avoid letting the ball touch the ground.
Along with ping pong, the Chinese have also dominated the badminton sport at all major world competitions.
Many of our Chinese tutors played these little games while growing up! What games did you play? Have you tried playing any of these?
Let us know in the comments!
Founded in 2004, TutorGroup, the parent company of TutorMing, created the first commercially available synchronous learning portal in the world. TutorGroup offers TutorMing for Chinese learning. For English learning, it offers VIPABC, TutorABC, and TutorABCJr. The company is backed by Alibaba, Softbank, Temasek, and Qiming Ventures.
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Sara Lynn Hua
Sara Lynn Hua is a contributing writer and editor for TutorMing. She grew up in Beijing, before going to the University of Southern California (USC) to get her degree in Social Sciences and Psychology.
Benefits of traditional Aboriginal games
Benefits of bringing traditional Indigenous games back to life include
- bringing-together of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people
- help reconnect urban Indigenous youth to their culture
- boost education retention (i.e. attendance at school)
- promote reconciliation
- provide essential training in social interaction
- enhance physical health
Many Aboriginal people see the traditional Indigenous games as a strong indicator that their culture can survive. In this way traditional games are not only helping Aboriginal youth to get physically fit but also inspiring older members of the Indigenous community.
Traditional Aboriginal games were not only played by children. Some games involved only men and boys, even old men, while in other games everyone was allowed to participate.
It's possible to see elements of our modern games in these [traditional Aboriginal] games. Keentan is like basketball, and Wana is much like French cricket, Kokan is a hockey game and Koolchee is like 10-pin bowling.&mdash Sharon Louth, education lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland 
Video: Background to some Traditional Indigenous Games (TIGs)
Watch this video to learn how some traditional games prepared hunters while others were simply entertaining.
When Children Came out to Play: Ancient Toys and Games - HistoryUsed by permission: Museum of London
Table of Contents
- Concepts of childhood
- The upbringing of children
- The culture of children
- Work and adolescence
- Recommended reading
Concepts of childhood
Toys give us a positive view of medieval childhood. Demography, the study of births and deaths, shows more of its darker side. The death rate among medieval children was high by modern standards. It has been suggested that 25% of them may have died in their first year, half as many (12.5%) between one and four, and a quarter as many (6%) between five and nine. There is no evidence that these deaths lessened parental affection and care for children, however, and the interest of adults in children can be traced throughout the middle ages. Medieval people inherited ideas about human life from the classical world. They thought they knew how infants grew in the womb and developed and matured after they were born. Life was viewed as a sequence of stages&mdash&ldquothe ages of man.&rdquo Infancy up to the age of 7 was viewed as a time of growth, childhood from 7 to 14 as one of play, and adolescence from 14 onwards as one of physical, intellectual, and sexual development.
Little survives about adult attitudes to children during the Anglo-Saxon period from 500 to 1066, although burials show that children were often buried with grave-goods, like adults, and that children with deformities were cared for and enabled to grow up. Information about adult attitudes grows in the twelfth century, an age of law-making in both the Church and in lay society. Making laws involved arrangements for children, because they could not be expected to bear the same responsibilities and penalties as adults. Medieval law-makers tended to place the boundary between childhood and adulthood at puberty, coventionally 12 for girls and 14 for boys. The Church led the way in making distinctions between childhood and adulthood. It came to regard children under the age of puberty as too immature to commit sins or to understand adult concepts and duties. On these grounds they were forbidden to marry, excused from confessing to a priest, and excluded from sharing in the sacrament of the eucharist. Secular justice developed a similar concept of an age of legal responsibility beginning at about puberty, although there are rare references to children receiving adult punishments.
By the thirteenth century scholars based in France, such as Bartholomew Glanville, Giles of Rome, and Vincent of Beauvais, were discussing childhood and children&rsquos education in learned writings, and by the fourteenth century children were portrayed in art&mdashespecially in scenes of everyday life in illuminated manuscripts. Children seldom feature in literature from England before 1400, although some romances describe how their heroes and heroines were born and brought up. After that date, however, children&rsquos literature begins to survive on a significant scale in the English language. It includes works of instruction, including short works on table manners, moral precepts, and hunting, and a few stories, notably a comic tale in verse called The Friar and the Boy. There is also evidence that adolescent children read adult fiction, such as romances, the works of Chaucer, and ballads of Robin Hood.
The upbringing of children
Well-established customs existed for bringing up children. Birth took place in a private chamber, where the mother was attended only by other women. This was followed by baptism, which in the early middle ages was encouraged to take place on the two great Christian festivals of Easter and Pentecost (Whitsuntide). Gradually, however, fears about the salvation of unbaptised children led to the practice of baptising children on the day that they were born, and this was the dominant custom by the twelfth century. At baptism a child was made a member of the Church, given a forename, and provided with three godparents to assist the parents in its upbringing. Forenames were sometimes chosen by parents, reflecting family traditions, but it was common for the chief godparent, who had the same gender as the child, to give it his or her own forename. As a result more than one child in a family might share the same forename.
Babies were breast-fed until they were two or more, usually by their mothers except in noble families where wet nurses were employed. Gradually they were weaned on soft foods. Parents provided care and training, and records of fatal accidents to small children suggest that boys and girls soon became aware of their gender and followed their gender parent in daily tasks. Accidents to small girls often took place around firesides or wells, and those to small boys in the father&rsquos working space. Fatal accidents were taken seriously by the authorities, and involved a coroner&rsquos inquest, like sudden deaths of adults. Corporal punishment was in use throughout society and probably also in homes, although social commentators criticised parents for indulgence towards children rather than for harsh discipline. Children were given tasks in keeping with their ages. For younger children this meant looking after their smaller siblings, or running errands. As they grew older they might be allocated lighter domestic or agricultural duties, but they were not capable of doing serious work until about the age of puberty when they began to acquire strength of an adult kind.
Growing up involved acquaintance with religion, but there was little structured education of children in this respect until the Reformation. Parents and godparents were expected to teach them basic prayers in Latin (Lord&rsquos Prayer, Apostles&rsquo Creed, and later Hail Mary), and how to behave in church. Church law after the twelfth century asked little of children in terms of duties. Only when they reached puberty did they acquire the adult obligations of confessing to a priest at least once a year, receiving the eucharist at Easter, attending church, and paying church dues.
The culture of children
Childhood required special clothes, from infant wrappings to miniature versions of adult dress. In wealthier families there were cradles, walking frames, and specially made toys. The metal toys already mentioned were only a small part of the stock of toys in use. Dolls, known as &ldquopoppets,&rdquo must have been widespread, but they have not survived since they were made of cloth or wood. Children are mentioned making their own toys: boats from pieces of bread, spears from sticks, and small houses from stones. Many games were played, from games of skill with cherry stones or tops to activities such as archery, football, and dancing. The oral culture of children is not recorded until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when scraps of verse and songs are noted in books, especially school notebooks. These point to the existence of nursery rhymes similar to (but not identical with) those of later times, as well as to children knowing and sharing in the songs and phrases of adults.
The education of children in England can be traced from the seventh century. Initially it centred on the training of boys as monks, girls as nuns, and other boys as &ldquosecular clergy&rdquo&mdashthose clergy who lived in the everyday world and eventually ministered in parish churches. This education was based on the learning of Latin and was usually provided in monasteries and nunneries. Education spread to some of the laity as early as the seventh century, and by the end of the ninth century it often took the form of learning to read and write in English rather than Latin. Schools of a modern kind, free-standing and open to the public, first appear in records in the 1070s and became very numerous thereafter, although monasteries and nunneries continued to do some educational work. Boys were usually sent to school, while girls were taught at home. We cannot say how many children were educated, but the number was substantial and probably grew considerably after about 1200. Education began by learning the Latin alphabet, and many boys and girls proceeded no further, using the skill chiefly to read in their own language, either English or, between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries, French. Only a minority of boys went on to learn Latin grammar and to become proficient in the language. Women (even nuns) rarely learnt Latin grammar after 1200, and their abilities in the language were chiefly restricted to being able to pronounce texts from Latin prayer-books in a devout manner, without a full understanding of the meaning.
Work and adolescence
Most children began to do serious work once they reached puberty, at around 12-14. Sometimes this was done at home, assisting in agricultural work or a craft, but it was common to send children away from home at about the age of puberty to be servants to other people. This was reckoned to train and discipline them, give them patrons who could assist their careers, and relieve their parents of expense. Places as servants varied widely, from working on farms or in domestic service to apprenticeships in which one learnt a skilled craft or trade. Apprenticeship tended to exclude the very poor. Boys of the wealthier classes often continued their schooling during their adolescence, especially if they were envisaged as having careers in the Church, law, or administration. Other boys were employed in churches as choristers or clerks. The wealthiest children of all&mdashthose of the nobility and more important gentry&mdashwere often received into the great households of other nobility or leading churchmen, where they acted as pages or retainers, learnt aristocratic manners, and in some cases underwent training in military skills. Although some aristocracy married in the teens, the population as a whole did not do so until the mid twenties. Entry to Church careers also tended to be late, ranging from the mid teens in some religious houses up to twenty-four, the age of ordination as a priest. It followed that from puberty until the mid twenties there was a long period in which children were partly yet not fully independent, away from home but not in households of their own. Like modern adolescents they bonded with others of their own gender, leading in towns to the formation of gangs of youths, and gradually made links with the opposite sex.
Medieval childhood was a rich and varied state, since children varied from one another as much as adults did. It differed chiefly from modern western society in its mortality and in the fact that many young people started serious work at an earlier age. Most of what we associate with childhood, however, existed for children in the middle ages: upbringing at home, play, special treatment according to age, and training for adult life and work. The concentration of historians on adults in the middle ages does insufficient justice to the fact that about one third of the population was usually under the age of 14.
Adams, Gillian. &ldquoMedieval Children&rsquos Literature: Its Possibility and Actuality.&rdquo Children&rsquos Literature. Vol. 26 (1998): 1-24.
Crawford, Sally. Childhood in Anglo-Saxon England. Stroud, UK: Alan Sutton, 1999.
Hanawalt, Barbara. Growing Up in Medieval London. New York & Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.
---. The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England. New York & Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986.
Orme, Nicholas. Medieval Children. New Haven & London: Yale UP, 2001.
---. Medieval Schools. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2006.
The “Gendering” of Our Kids’ Toys, and What We Can Do About It
As a child growing up in the 70s and 80s, I don’t recall feeling that my toy choices were particularly limited because of my gender. I played with both dolls and trucks and had the most fun just making mud pies in the backyard. Maybe this was the result of being raised by parents who didn’t impose traditional gender ideas on me, or maybe it was just emblematic of the times.
But when my daughter Isabella was born in 2002, I began to notice how extremely gendered children’s products seem to have become in the new millennium. Trying to find girls’ clothing that was not pink (which I quickly learned isn’t a very functional color for a toddler who loves to grub around in the dirt) was enough of a challenge. But it was in the world of toys that I noticed what seemed to be a drastic change from my own childhood.
With the exception of preschool toys that were sometimes offered in gender-neutral packaging, kids’ toys were largely segregated into different aisles (or online pages) according to gender. And within those aisles, the markings of gender were clear. The “girls’” section resembled the aftermath of an explosion of Pepto-Bismol. In the “boys’” section, there seemed to be a profusion of aggressive, hyper-muscled, weapon-wielding action figures. And in both realms, the majority of toys seemed to be explicitly tied to movies and television.
I sought out non-gendered toys for my daughter and found them more readily available in higher-end, independent toy stores&mdashbut they also came with a hefty price tag. And even these alternative toy markets seem to be becoming more and more gendered. Just the other day, while shopping with my daughter at the local independent toy store for a birthday gift, I couldn’t help but notice that Melissa & Doug brand crayon sets are offered in two versions&mdasha pink princess model and a blue fire-truck version.
Of course, I’m not alone in noticing how today’s toys seem increasingly gendered. In their books Packaging Girlhood and Packaging Boyhood, authors Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown detail the extensive and problematic stereotypical messages about gender that are embedded in contemporary children’s products and advertising. Peggy Orenstein’s book Cinderella Ate My Daughter explores the pink-laden, hyper-sexualized “girlie-girl” culture that is omnipresent in the U.S. today, and the consequences of this culture for both children and parents. And scholars of children’s marketing such as Juliet Schor and Susan Linn have offered extensive evidence of how such trends are connected to commericalism’s omnipresence in the lives of children in the attempt to create cradle-to-grave brand awareness and loyalty.
Ever-more targeted marketing that segments and isolates children into specific categories (“tween girls,” for example) may explain why toys are becoming more ostensibly gendered. But a larger question remains: In light of the significant advances toward gender equality that we see in the occupational realm, in the realm of home and family, and in education, why do children’s toys seem to be moving in the opposite direction? Why are they embodying seemingly regressive stereotypes&mdashi.e., that girls are sweet, domestic, and pretty, and boys are strong, aggressive, and mechanically inclined? And why has gender become such a focal distinction among marketers and toy producers?
The Historical Context: Trends in the 20th Century
It was this question that led me to my dissertation research project. I wanted to put what I was seeing in a historical context, and to understand whether it was indeed true that toys today are more gendered than they were, say, in the 70s and 80s. Has there in fact been a change in the extent to which children’s toys are made and marketed according to gender? And how do the changes in children’s toys relate to larger social shifts in gender relations? Do toys merely reflect the ideas about gender that are predominant in the larger culture at any given time, or are they a reaction to these ideas, either promoting more or less egalitarianism than is the case at any given time?
To address these questions, I’ve spent the past year analyzing the content of toys and toy ads in a sample of Sears catalogs from the 20th century&mdasha primary site of consumption for Americans during this time. I’m examining both the images and the text to determine how much the toys and ads are overtly and subtly marketed toward a particular gender, and how this is evident. I'm attempting to ascertain who a particular toy was designed for, and what kinds of qualities and attributes are being ascribed to both the toy and the child. I’m still in the process of data analysis, but already I’ve observed some interesting trends:
The sheer number of toys produced for and marketed to children has increased exponentially over the 20th century. In the 1905 Sears catalog, there were only 139 toys offered, including card and board games for the whole family. But by 1945, the number of toys had nearly doubled, and by 1995 there were over 1,400 toys on display in the Sears holiday Wishbook. This makes sense in light of the changing understandings of childhood and the shifting patterns of consumption over the course of the 20th century. At the turn of the century, children were productive contributors to the family economy and thus childhood was viewed far less than it is today as a unique and protected status. In addition, the explosion of the toy market in the second half of the 20th century surely reflects the simultaneous rise of the consumer economy where children are now seen as vital consumers.
The extent to which children’s toys are overtly gendered (i.e., explicitly marketed to either a boy or a girl in the ad copy) appears to have fluctuated over time, but it is clearly a dominant trend today. For example:
- In the 1905 catalog, no toys were expressly marketed to either gender, and only a handful (roughly 15 percent) bore more subtle gender messages. Even the dolls, which in subsequent decade were much more clearly marked as “girls’” toys, were advertised in a fairly gender-ambiguous manner. And some dolls were clearly designed for boys as well as girls.
- By 1915, dolls tended to be much more feminine in form (with hair bows, for example) and doll accessories were overtly marketed toward girls. We also see the emergence of homemaking toys, such as toy stoves and irons, which are expressly made for girls, and toys such as guns, model kits, and tool sets, which were expressly marketed for boys. But the majority of toys in the early part of the century&mdashblocks, stuffed animals, farm sets, balls, pull toys, etc.&mdashseemed to lack the markings of gender.
- By mid-century, nearly all dolls were overtly marketed toward girls, as were home-making toys. Fewer toys seemed to be expressly marketed toward boys. While some bore the subtle markings of gender (i.e., being modeled by a boy), only a handful of guns or trucks were overtly directed toward boys. Yet clear gender distinctions had emerged in terms of occupational roles, as is clear in a 1945 ad for “Doctor and Nurse” kits.
- By 1965, the gender roles that prescribe the realm of home and family to girls and the realm of science, building, and aggression to boys were even more evident. In one catalog, we see an image with the caption: “Sears knows what little girls like. ” and on the opposing page, “Dolls daintily dressed in parfait colors.” The kitchen seems to be strictly for girls (as depicted in the first ad shown above), and girls’ dress-up clothing is framed around the ideas of dating and romance. In contrast, the realm of science is portrayed as the domain of boys, and there are a profusion of toys like G.I. Joe that embody aggression marketed to boys. Yet there are still some toys, primarily toddler toys and those designed to be educational, that remain gender neutral
- Interestingly, by 1975 we begin to see some broadening in the gender roles that are prescribed for boys and girls and in the extent to which toys are overtly gendered. Overall, there seem to be fewer toys than in previous decades that are explicitly marketed toward one gender or another, although there are still subtle forms of gendering (such as the use of color or the wording of ad copy). We also see, for the first time, images of boys playing with kitchen playsets and girls playing with construction sets. And the image that goes with the “doctor and nurse kits” is one of two girls.
- These trends become even more pronounced by 1985, where we see boys not only in the kitchen but also modeling home-making toys such as vacuums. And we see, for the first time, images of boys playing with dolls. For girls, we see the introduction of action figures such as “She-Ra” that embody both femininity and adventure. And boys and girls seem to be more likely to share space on catalog pages and to wear clothing that is less gender typed than in previous decades.
- Notably, by 1985, the majority of toys offered in the Sears Wishbook are clearly branded where they were less likely to be previously. And many are clearly tied in with children’s television programs and movies. In 1984, deregulation removed the legal barriers that prevented the use of children’s programming to sell products. The profusion of branded toys that directly relate to programming in 1985 is likely a direct result of such deregulation.
By the end of the 20th century, there were signs that the move toward more gender-neutral toys and toys that embody increasingly egalitarian gender roles was waning. In the 1995 holiday Wishbook, although we still see some images of boys in the kitchen and girls doing science, the use of pink to color-code “girls’” toys and playsets seems more prevalent than ever. Some toys, such as beds and building sets, are offered in separate versions according to gender. Although few toys are explicitly stated to be for a particular gender, many show the subtle markings of gender through use of color, specific models, and language in the ad copy. It seems reasonable to assume that few boys will select the pink Fairytale Princess bed or the Fairytale Palace Mega Bloks. And in fact, the gendered Mega Bloks sets are an interesting contrast to the relatively gender neutral Lego sets found in the previous decade.
Toys and Gender: The Larger Picture
In the 1990s, toys aimed at girls often emphasized beauty, nurturing, domesticity, and romance while boy’s toys seemed to emphasize aggression, action, and excitement. Although these types of gender messages are evident to varying extents throughout the 20th century, they seem heightened in the mid-90s compared to the previous two decades. This is the same period that women were showing an increasing presence in the labor force, in the political realm, and in higher education.
As gender relations continue to move toward a more egalitarian end, why then do toys seem to be moving in the opposite direction?
One possible explanation for this trend is that as women have gained social and political power, toys have come to embody an ideological backlash to this progress. As the roles of men and women become more similar in the larger society, there is a greater need to distinguish between masculinity and femininity within the culture, and to emphasize that the traditional aspects of gender roles have not been abandoned.
But toys also serve a critical role in teaching children about gender and what it means to be masculine and feminine, so the heightening of gender in the realm of toys seems especially problematic. How do children come to understand that men can be nurturing and can cook and care for the home, and that women can be assertive, adventurous, and competent, when the ideas they see encoded in their toys are so contradictory?
The effect of these messages on children may be more profound than we might think. From my own experience raising a daughter who has always eschewed anything pink and princessy, I know it can be difficult being a child who doesn’t conform to these increasingly rigid gender norms. For girls, there is still some latitude to stray across gender boundaries&mdashgirls can, for example, wear boys’ clothing or play with boys’ toys without being socially ostracized. But for boys, the stakes are higher. Consider the massive controversy that arose when J. Crew ran an advertisement that showed a mother painting her son’s toenails pink.
This past holiday season, I found myself in a Toys ‘R’ Us store and couldn’t help but notice, in the virulent pink “girls’” section, the signs above the toys that said “cook and clean” and “kids’ cooking.” I couldn’t believe that, in the year 2010, this is where we are in terms of gender and toys. While the language on the signs may suggest gender neutrality, the use of color clearly suggests that these tasks are the domain of girls.
I am troubled by what I see as a move toward more repressive ideas about gender in the land of children’s toys, and I’m also concerned about the constant push to consume and spend for children from birth onward. The manufacturers who make the bulk of children’s products, and the marketers who sell them, generally do not have children’s best interests at the forefront. Rather, the desire to profit is paramount, whatever the social cost.
As parents, we need to become more aware of the messages being sent to our children via marketing and the products they are surrounded by. And we need to educate our children about those messages. I talk constantly to my own daughter about what I see, and as a result she has begun to decode those messages herself. That doesn’t mean she still isn’t swayed by them from time to time, but at least her eyes are open.
But most importantly, as citizens, we need to demand that corporations be held accountable to make and market products in a responsible manner. Left to its own devices, the toy industry seems loathe to address the negative effects of contemporary toys and toy marketing for children. Thus, pressure from citizens and parents will be necessary if we hope to see a future where children’s products aren’t at such odds with important values like gender equality.
To learn more about how you can combat the harmful effects of commercial culture on children, visit:
Elizabeth Sweet is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis. Her research interests include sex and gender and the sociology of the family. She is the mother of a 9-year-old daughter, Isabella.
Traditional Indonesian Children's Games
In this age of electronic games and hi tech toys, we often forget that it is often the simplest of inventions that can entertain a child for a long period of time. Although state-of-the-art, high tech computer games are available in Indonesia, such as the ever-popular game cubes, smart phone and iPad game apps, these modern inventions are not affordable for the majority of the population. These games would only be found in the homes of middle to upper class families.
Amongst the economically disadvantaged in society, it is often hard for parents to make enough money to feed their family, so toys are often quite simple or something that has been made by the parent. Fortunately, traditional toys are not expensive . and are fun! The toys and the games that are described below are commonly seen and played by Indonesian children today.
Kelereng or Gundu
Kelereng, or marbles to the western world, is a favorite with boys. There are many variations of games played with marbles.
One of the more popular versions is that a small circle is drawn on the ground. All the players put one of their marbles within the circle. Then each of the players drops another marble to a point outside of the drawn circle. The player that owns the marble furthest away from the circle is entitled to play first.
He must attempt to use the marble that is outside of the circle (striker) to hit the marbles within the circle and knock them outside of the ring. If he is successful in doing, this he is entitled to keep the marbles that he has knocked out of the circle. The striker marble, however, must also come to rest outside of the drawn circle. If it does not, this marble must remain within the circle and the owner then forfeits this marble.
If the player is successful in knocking one of his opponents' marbles out of the ring, he can continue his turn and try to strike any other opponents. striker marbles. If he is successful in hitting his opponents. striker marble, he is entitled to take that marble and his opponent can no longer play the current round. If however he misses his opponents. striker marble, he looses his turn and the next player can then start to play.
Gangsing or Gasing
This game is normally played by boys. The gangsing is a top made from bamboo with a small opening on the side. This small hole makes the top whistle very distinctively as it spins. The size of the hole determines the pitch of the whistle. String is wound around the dowel that goes through the center of the gangsing . The child then holds onto the flat bamboo handle that is tied to the end of the string and pulls this handle to set the gangsing spinning. Normally a circle is drawn on the ground about 50 cm. in diameter. Two children play against each other. The object of the game is to try and knock your opponents gangsing out of the designated circle. Gangsing are commonly sold outside the temples and tourist attractions in Yogyakarta, Central Java.
This is a very popular game which elementary school girls play at recess time. It is much like skipping rope however the rope that the girls use is made from hundreds of elastic bands that are looped together to form a large ring. The girls take turns trying to jump over the elastic rope which is held by two girls at each end.
The height of the rope normally starts low, such as at ankle height, and gradually moves higher up the bodies of the children after the jumpers have successfully jumped over the lower height. Experienced jumpers can often jump over ropes that are neck high! A good thing that comes from using a rope that is made from rubber bands, is that if a jumper is not successful in jumping over the rope, the rope will give and the jumper will not be hurt in her unsuccessful attempt. Thus, a lot of skinned knees are avoided.
This is the equivalent of western jacks, and is commonly played by Indonesian girls. The shape of the bekel differs from the western jacks in that they are flat with a small bridge holding the two sides together. On the upper side of the biji bekel there is a small red dot that is called the pit. The under side of the bekel is called a roh. On one of the flat sides of the biji bekel there are small indentations or dots and the other side is smooth.
The game is played is a similar method to jacks, but with a few differences. When the game is started, the biji bekel are all held in the hand of the player and are dropped as the ball is allowed to bounce one time. The player then starts to play by attempting to pick up the biji bekel one at a time without disturbing any of the other biji bekel within the time that it takes the ball to bounce once.
If the player successfully has picked up all of the bekel, he then drops them again and starts the second set of the game. In this set he must attempt to position the biji bekel with the pit facing up again one at a time. This action must be completed while the player throws the ball in the air and allows it to bounce one time. The player must attempt to turn over the bekel without moving any of the other bekel.
If the player completes this successfully, he then picks up the biji bekel one at a time while throwing the ball in the air until he has all of the biji bekel in his hand. He then drops them all again and now picks the biji bekel up two at a time and then three at a time, etc. until he picks up all the biji bekel with one sweep of the hand.
He drops them again and now starts the roh set. The player must attempt to turn over all the biji bekel so the roh side is now facing up. It is permitted to pick up more than one group of the set number while the ball is being thrown in the air. For example if the player is picking up groups of two while the ball is being thrown in the air, he may grab three groups of two bekel. The action of grabbing a set number of bekel is called cek.
If the player moves any of the biji bekel that he is not attempting to pick up, or if he drops any of the biji bekel in his hand, he loses his turn and it goes to the next player. A skilled player can go through many sets of the game before he makes a mistake and has to turn the bekel over to the next player. The player that completes the most sets without making a mistake is considered the winner of the game.
The name is derived from the Dutch game"bikkelen" using the same copper "bikkels".
Layang-layang or kite flying is a very popular pastime for Indonesian children. Provinces throughout the country have their own designs. There are two distinct types of kites: the first is those that are just to be used for flying which have a tailed attached to them to balance the kite and those that will be used for one-on-one dogfights, a favorite pastime amongst kite flyers.
Fighting kites do not have tails attached to them. They are made from light bamboo and waxed paper. Often the string that is attached to these kites is coated with crushed glass. The string is dipped in a solution of crushed glass, which has been boiled with ka, chemicals and dye. The mixture acts as an adherent so the tiny particles of glass will cling to the string. The string is strung out on a small rack to let it dry. This process makes the string very sharp and capable of cutting the opponents string.
Ready-made glass coated string can also be bought in various thickness. . Most kite flyers opt to buy ready-made string as it is a long and messy process to prepare their own. The choice of the thickness of the string would depend the on the size of the kite, and a greater consideration, the budget of the buyer. If the owner is not careful this string can also cut his fingers as well!
The object of the game is to try and cut the opponents' kite loose. The way that the string is attached to the kite determines the control that the flyer has over his kite. If the two holding strings are attached far apart to the frame of the kite, this will make it heavier to hold on to when it is flying. However, this gives the kite flyer greater control over the movements of the kite.
If the two holding strings are attached closer together onto the frame of the kite, this makes the kite much lighter to hold on to but sacrifices control. These kites tend to be wilder in flight.
Experienced kite flyers know that a taunt string is not as easy to cut as a slack string, so it is up to the skill of the kite flyer to use techniques of pulling and releasing the string to try and avoid having his kite cut free. If a kite is cut free by an opponent, the victor is the one that is still holding a kite. The loose kites are often the culprits of reckless chases. The child that gets to the loose kite first is considered the new owner of the kite.
These small replicas of the larger kuda lumping that are used in a trance dance on Java are cut out from woven bamboo mats and painted with striking colored patterns. Sequins, beads and other materials can also be added to give the kuda lumping its colorful appearance.
When given to a child, their imaginative minds are the only limit as to what dramas these kuda lumping are the center of! Although intended as a toy, many of these delightful horses end up in suitcases to be given as souvenirs of an expat's trip to Indonesia or smaller more colorful versions can be used as eye-catching decorations on Christmas trees.
Mobil-mobilan Kulit Jeruk
Although today's children may think that cars made from Jeruk Bali skins are no match for contemporary toy cars, many Indonesian men have fond memories of these home-made cars. Jeruk Bali is a large pomelo (grapefruit-like) that has a very thick skin. Once the fruit has been removed, the skin can then be then cut into pieces that will form the parts of the car.
Stiff coconut frond ribs are used to hold the pieces together. A long stick is attached to the back of the car and can be used to push the car along. Sometimes a string is tied to the front of the car so that it can be pulled behind the owner as well. This very simple toy has brought a smile to the faces of many Indonesian children.
Congklak or Dakon
One of the oldest known games in the world, Congklak can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt. Brought to Indonesia, probably centuries ago by Arab or Indian traders, it is just as popular in Indonesia today as it has been for through the ages. Congklak is played on a board with circular indentations along both sides and a home indentation on each end of the board.
The game is played with 98 small markers such as shells or beads, which are divided evenly between all the indentations. Although at first glance this many appear to be some type of calculator, it is quite a challenging strategic game and takes a lot of practice before a player becomes skilled.
A large majority of Indonesian traditional instruments tend to be made of bamboo, as it is readily available throughout Indonesia. School children are often taught basic music on instruments such as Suling, Gambang or Angklung. A suling is a small flute-like instrument, which resembles a recorder, however it is made of bamboo. It has holes down the length of the instrument that when covered or uncovered by the player's fingers result in the various notes.
Angklung are another traditional Indonesian instrument that is made from bamboo, originating from West Java. Angklung are actually a group of various sized hand-held instruments made from bamboo. When the angklung is shaken is produces a chord of music. The size of the angklung determines the chord that it produces. Songs are played with one person standing up behind a group of hanging angklung or by a group of people holding one angklung and playing their chord at the appropriate time within the song - much like a group of people would play bells in the west.
A gambang is a xylophone-type instrument with keys made from different lengths of bamboo. The different lengths of the bamboo result in different notes. The bamboo produces a very pleasant soft sound when struck with the mallets.
A very different type of instrument is the gamelan orchestra. Gamelan is actually a group of percussion and accompanying instruments which are housed on short legs which allow the musician to play the instrument sitting down on the floor cross-legged. Gamelan are used in traditional music, primarily in Java and Bali.
Semut, Orang, Gajah
This game is popular throughout Asia, just as it is throughout the world in all its variations. I remember playing a paper, scissors, stone game of similar design. In Indonesia the game is also known as suwitan or pingsut and is played by young children to see who goes first in play, or just for fun to see who wins.
Little finger points towards partner
Pointer finger points towards partner
Thumb points towards partner
Face your partner with your hand in front of you in a fist. Then, count to three together, open you hand and make one of the three hand signs. If both of you make the same sign, start again.
The semut wins over the gajah because the semut can crawl in the gajah's ear and tickle him to drive him crazy.
The orang wins over the semut because the orang can stomp on the semut and squash it.
The gajah wins over the orang because the orang can get trampled by the gajah.
The game is also called Pithoo or Lagori in some parts of India. Any number of people can play it. It needs seven small flat stones every stone size should be less than the other stone. Keep the stones on each other in decreasing size order. Hit the pile with a cloth ball from a fixed difference. Read the complete rules of the game here. You can also buy this game online.
This traditional game is played by both children and adults. This simple game requires 5 pieces of small stones. You spin one stone in the air and pick other stones from the ground without dropping the stone in the air. This game can be played by any number of people.
When Children Came out to Play: Ancient Toys and Games - History
The people of Ancient Egypt enjoyed a variety of activities for entertainment. Like in most societies, the wealthy had more leisure time for fun and games, but even the peasants liked to have fun and enjoy festivals and games.
The Egyptians not only hunted for food, they also hunted for entertainment. Sometimes large game animals would be brought into an enclosed area for rich nobles, or even the pharaoh, to hunt. Dangerous animals like lions or hippos were hunted this way. Hunters used a variety of weapons including spears, arrows, and throwing sticks.
The Ancient Egyptians liked to play board games for fun. Two of the most popular board games were senet and mehen. The game of senet is thought to be over 5000 years old. It was so popular that many pharaohs were buried with senet boards so they would have something to do in the afterlife. Mehen was played on a round board with spaces shaped like a coiled snake.
The Ancient Egyptians also enjoyed physical games and sports. Many of the sporting activities helped to prepare young men for battle. Wrestling was a popular sport that both the rich and the poor people alike enjoyed. Chariot racing helped to hone the skills of chariot drivers and archery contests helped warriors improve their accuracy with the bow and arrow.
Most Ancient Egyptians could not read or write. Up until the times when the Greeks conquered Egypt, the Egyptians didn't have any theatre either. However, the Ancient Egyptians loved to tell stories. Storytellers could keep an audience captivated for hours with popular tales about Egyptian gods, love, war heroes, and adventures. Stories were passed down from generation to generation orally.
Throughout the year the Egyptians celebrated various festivals. Many of these were in honor of certain gods such as the Thoth festival. Festivals involved special offerings and celebrations. During the Opet Festival, the statues of the gods Amun, Mut, and Khonsu would travel in a parade from the Temple of Karnak to Luxor.
What did kids do for fun?
Children were considered adults at a very young age in Ancient Egypt. While they were still children, however, they had fun playing games and swimming in the Nile River. Archeologists have found evidence of all sorts of kids toys such as rattles, toy lions, balls, and spinning tops.
Mehen is an ancient Egyptian game, references to which have been found already in the predynastic period, before 3100 BCE. The game is a spiral in the shape of a coiled snake with the snake’s head in the center of the disk. The name Mehen, can refer to the spiral form of the game or its representation of the Egyptian snake-god Mehen.
The game disappeared from use after the end of the Old Kingdom, about 2300 BCE. Besides Egypt, it is known that Mehen was also played in Cyprus and in Jordan, near the Dead Sea region, as examples of it were found at some sites there.
Stone Mehen Game. 1st Dynasty, Egypt. British Museum, EA66852.
Mehen was unique from other Egyptian games in the fact that it was a multi-player game that could have been played by up to six players. The original rules of the game are unknown. Examples of the game have been found together with six playing pieces in the shapes of dogs, hippos, and most commonly, lions, and with round balls, the use of which was unclear. The number of cells in the coil of the game board varied from as low as 40 to as high as 400. It seems that the number of cells did not affect the rules of the game. The complete set of Mehen is depicted on a drawing in the Mastaba of Hesy at Saqqara.
3 Games – Mehen (Left Center), Senet (Upper Right), and Men (Lower Right) from The Tomb of Hesy, Saqqara, Egypt. Drawing by James Edward Quibell, 1913. From Quibell, James Edward. Excavations at Saqqara: 1911-1912. Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 1913. Plate XI.
|Six Ivory Mehen Lion Playing Pieces. 1st Dynasty, ca. 3100-2890 BCE. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 44918 A-F, Ground Floor, Hall 43.|
From the archaeological record, it appears that Mehen fell out of use after the Old Kingdom, being taken over by Senet and Aseb. Although it should be noted that it did not completely vanish. In 1925, Reginald Davies, a British Colonial Administrator in Sudan, recorded a game called Lib El Merafib, The Hyena Game, played by Kababish Arabs of Northern Sudan, in Nubia, which closely resembles Mehen, being played on a spiral board with all the pieces needing to reach the well in the center and then eaten by the hyena on their way back.
I have presented here the best set of Mehen rules that I was able to find, which makes an interesting game, although simple, developed by Timothy Kendall and adapted by a Russian game re-constructor Dmitriy Skiryuk (Дмитрий Скирюк) and originally published on his blog in Russian. I have clarified some of unclear points in the rules to make them consistent.
Dmitriy Skiryuk’s Rules:
- Number of players is 2 – 6.
- The game consists of a spiral board, 6 playing pieces in the shape of lions, 6 sets of 6 balls each, and 3 two sided, throwing sticks to serve as dice, with one side rounded and the other side flat.
- All 3 throwing sticks are thrown at the same time. The score is determined as follows:
- If one throwing stick landed on the flat side and the other two landed on the round side the score is 1.
- If two throwing sticks landed on the flat side and the last one landed on the round side the score is 2.
- If all three throwing sticks landed on the flat side the score is 3.
- If all three throwing sticks landed on the rounded side the score is 6, which is the maximum obtainable score.
- Scores 4 and 5 are skipped.
- Phase 1: Obtaining a Lion Piece
- All balls start off the board.
- Players move the balls one by one towards the center of the board.
- Once all the balls of a particular player make it into the center of board and then return to the beginning of the path at the tail that player gets a lion piece.
- The lion together with its balls starts moving back from the tail to the center and then back to the tail.
- On its way the lion tries to eat as many of opponents’ balls as possible.
On Game Strategy:
- Each player needs to balance how many balls they bring on to the board. The less balls they have the less the opponent’s lions have to eat. Once the player’s ball gets eaten they can bring on another ball, but now that ball will take longer to get off the board.
- On the other hand, the more balls there are on the board, the more of a chance each player has to knock off their components pieces and delay the end of the game, thus allowing themselves to eat more balls.
Mehen Game Board. Predynastic period, Egypt. Oriental Institute of Chicago Museum – E16950
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