21 May 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Rare Ancient Bone Game found in Israel “Astragali”

Archaeologists have found a rare assemblage of animal knucklebones known as astragali used in ancient Greek games and divination in Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park in Israel’s Judean Shefelah region.

Ancient societies made extensive use of astragali, or knuckle bones, particularly those of caprine or cattle. In addition to other uses, they served as toys and tokens for rituals and divination.

Known as astragali, the practice of astragalomancy is of ancient indeterminate origin and has probably been independently invented several times. It is found throughout various cultures worldwide. It was a game of chance or divination played by the Greeks and Romans in ancient times, drawing some inspiration from the Etruscans and nearby Eastern civilizations.

Astragalomancy was practiced in Ancient Greece by rolling astragaloi and then consulting “dice oracles.” To obtain an oracle, either five astragaloi were rolled at the same time, or one astragalos (also known as astragali) was rolled five times in a row.

Astragalos from the Hellenistic era, which dates back 2,300 years, were discovered by University of Haifa researchers working under the direction of Dr. Ian Stern during excavations in the Maresha-Bet Guvrin National Park.

Inscriptions of Greek gods and goddesses on gaming and divination bones are known as astragali. (Photo: ROI SHAFFIR/HAIFA UNIVERSITY)

The study, conducted by archaeologists from various institutes around Israel, was published in the peer-reviewed Levant journal.

Many of the bones were engraved with the names of Greek gods that are associated with wishes and desire, such as Aphrodite, goddess of sexual love and beauty; Eros, god of love; Hermes, god of travelers, thieves, and merchants; Hera, goddess of marriage, women, and family, and the protector of women in childbirth, Nike, goddess of victory. Some of the pieces also have inscriptions such as “Robber”, “Stop, and “You are burnt” engraved.

Astragali were also used as charms and tokens. They were frequently buried beneath the foundations of a house to bring prosperity and peace, and there are records of young women using them as marriage tokens to mark their transition from maidens to married women.

It was discovered that the astragali that were the subject of the study had their shapes altered and were filled with lead.

According to Dr. Lee Perry-Gal, Israel Antiquities Authority,  in the University of Haifa: “The extensive collection of astragaloi from Maresha is exceptional in terms of both quantity and quality as well as the numerous inscriptions. The collection shows that, just like today, those in need turned to spells, divination, and other extraterrestrial means of assistance.  Men and women struggled in an environment where death, childbirth, and health were unpredictable, and they tried to use magic to protect themselves.”

Cover Photo: Ancient Greek bones known as astragali were used for games and divination. (YULI SCHWARTZ/IAA)

Related Articles

Sacred Hill of Moon God Sin “Sogmatar”

23 June 2022

23 June 2022

Sogmatar, Şanlıurfa is 53 kilometers from Harran. It is located in Yağmurlu village, where there are important springs in the...

Ancient Hebrew “Incantation Bowls” discovered in a home in Israel

8 March 2022

8 March 2022

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said Monday that 1,500-year-old magical “incantation bowls” and other rare and ornate bone and ivory...

The Ancient City of Yijin Among the Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries in China

3 February 2021

3 February 2021

Located in Hangzhou’s Lin’an District, Yijin Ancient City among the top 10 archaeological discoveries in China in 2020. Yijin Ancient...

Archaeologists revealed Urartian King Menua second temple in Van excavations

22 December 2022

22 December 2022

The second temple of King Menua as well as a chamber tomb were unearthed during the excavations carried out this...

Neanderthals of the North

13 May 2022

13 May 2022

Were Neanderthals really as well adapted to life in the cold as previously assumed, or did they prefer more temperate...

Mythical Viking stronghold Jomsborg could be on Hangman’s Hill near Wolin, archaeologist say

14 July 2023

14 July 2023

A new hypothesis about the location of the mythical Viking stronghold on Hangman’s Hill near Wolin (West Pomerania) has been...

8000-year-old with balcony architectural structure belonging to the Prehistoric period found in Anatolia

31 October 2021

31 October 2021

During the excavations in Domuztepe mound, it was revealed that an architectural structure thought to be 7-8 thousand years old...

Archaeologists discover the Americas’ oldest adobe architecture

7 December 2021

7 December 2021

On the north coast of Peru, researchers have discovered the oldest adobe architecture in the Americas, constructed with ancient mud...

The enigma behind King Tut’s’space dagger,’ according to archaeologists, has finally been solved

24 February 2022

24 February 2022

Archaeologists have finally solved the enigma of King Tutankhamun’s dagger, which was discovered 3,400 years ago. A new examination of...

Archaeologists Reveal a Hair Style They Think Was Fashion 2000 Years Ago

19 February 2021

19 February 2021

The small 5 cm figurine found during excavations at Wimpole in Cambridgeshire surprised with its details. National Trust archaeologists and...

New discoveries show that Claros continued to serve as an oracle center after Christianity

14 September 2022

14 September 2022

Game boards and forked cross motifs dating to the fifth and seventh centuries AD were discovered at the ancient Greek...

3,000-year-old skeletons of nine children were discovered in Qazvin province, Iran

29 April 2023

29 April 2023

Archaeologists from the University of Tehran have discovered the remains of children dating back 3,000 years during excavations in an...

Four 1,900-year-old Roman swords found in Judean Desert

6 September 2023

6 September 2023

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery of four extremely well-preserved Roman swords hidden in a cave in the...

Archaeologists 3D map Red Lily Lagoon, the hidden Northern Territory landscape where first Australians lived more than 60,000 years ago

10 May 2023

10 May 2023

Archaeologists map Red Lily Lagoon, a hidden landscape in the Northern Territory where the first Australians lived more than 60,000...

Traces of a 3,600-year-old settlement have been discovered in Qatar’s desert

8 February 2022

8 February 2022

Researchers looking for underground water sources on the Eastern Arabian Peninsula have accidentally uncovered the outlines of a settlement that...