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It’s All Fun and Games!

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Find of the Month: December

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Alumah, age 10, holding an astragolos

Over Chanukkah, we had 1356 people come and sift with us! Out of the thousands of amazing finds recovered in the last week and the last month, our find of the month is this fantastic astragolos also commonly known as a game piece from the game of Knucklebones (though it isn’t the knuckles but rather the anklebones from the hind legs of sheep and goats that are used to play this game of chance). This artifact was found by the Bar Yosef family from Eli and seems to be the perfect fit for this fun-loving family! See Alumah, age 10, holding the astragolos found by her family.

The origin of Knucklebones is probably a more primitive form of dice. Sophocles ascribed the invention of knucklebones to Palamedes, who taught it to the Greeks during the Trojan War. It became one of the most popular games of chance in antiquity. The knucklebones, or astragaloi, were used like fivestones, dice, or jacks. The game is played with five small objects (10 with jacks) that were thrown in the air and caught in various ways such as on the back of the hand. Many have been found in funerary contexts and may have been intended to help the deceased entertain themselves through eternity.

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Bone astragolos found by the Bar Yosef family in the sifting

Today, variations of this game with specific rules and combinations of throws and catches are still played in different contexts across the world. Here in Israel, children play “Chamesh Avanim,” which is similar in concept but played with small metal dice or cubes. (This archaeologist can admit that her nieces always beat her).

Sometimes these game pieces were also made out of glass, bronze, stone, and terracotta, or had a hole and were used as a bead. Most astragaloi come from Hellenistic or Roman contexts. In October, while sorting through a collection of bones found the day before, one of our staff noticed that one of the bones looked like it was made of glass. He had found a glass astragolos! Though there have been many glass astragaloi discovered in Greece, its dependents, and the Eastern Mediterranean, they are rare here in Israel. A few have been found in Samaria, Maresha, Dor, and Jaffa. Unless others are unpublished, this was the first glass astragaloi found in Jerusalem. More research will determine the significance of this find and refine its dating, so stay tuned for a future article about this.

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Glass astragolos from the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv that is like the one found by the Sifting Project.

Name That Find: Answer!

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Last week, we asked all of our followers on the blog, on Facebook, and Twitter to Name That Find! We got a lot of really great and creative answers, but we managed to stump everyone (including some of our own staff members)!

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Thank you all for playing along and being such good sports. I got our expert, Dr. Aaron Greener to give you the real answer to the riddle! It’s the nose of a horse figurine!

Here’s a picture from the side. I found this picture in our database. I don’t know who took this picture, but I love them for making it look like the horse is eating a piece of cardboard. It is my new favorite picture.

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When we caught up with Aaron, I got him to talk more about this artifact and the others that he has been researching. He presents his research at the upcoming conference at Bar Ilan University in January.

A Chanukkah Message from Dr. Gaby Barkay

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OK. The lab has caught the seasons greetings fever. Gaby wanted to make a Happy Chanukkah video too! As always, Gaby has to give some archaeological facts, so watch Gaby discuss oil lamps and celebrate the holiday of Chanukkah!

May you all, no matter what holidays you are celebrating, have a season of light and joy.

We have thousands of fragments of pottery that still need to be catalogued, processed, and researched, including all these oil lamps! Please consider donating to our project and helping us make sure that this important information is properly recorded and distributed to the public in an official publication. You can donate here.

Here are some numbers to think about:

832. The number of research hours on First Temple Period pottery (alone) needed in 2017. We also need to research Second Temple period pottery, Roman and Byzantine pottery, Islamic, and Modern period pottery among others.

416. The number of people we need to date $25 in order to cover the costs of pottery analysis for 1 year.

$200. This will sponsor one full week of pottery analysis.

$100. This will sponsor one full week of the drawing of special pottery finds.

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