Cache of Ancient Knucklebones Discovered in Israel

Israel Maresha AstragaliJERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that researchers discovered more than 500 Hellenistic-period astragali, or animal knucklebones, in artificial caves beneath southern Israel’s ancient city of Maresha. Astragali were typically fashioned from the bones of sheep, goats, and cattle, and were often used in games similarly to dice. Some of the knucklebones found at Maresha, which date to around 2,300 years ago, bear game-related markings and roles such as “thief,” while others were inscribed in Greek with the names of deities associated with desire and wishes, such as Aphrodite, Hera, Hermes, and Eros. Many of the latter were discovered next to ostracons with magical incantations and curses in Aramaic. “During the Roman and Hellenistic period, astragali were used a lot in divination, at Maresha as well. This amount is extraordinary—especially ones with writing, names of gods and goddesses, found in the context of ostracons of prophecy,” said zooarchaeologist Lee Perry-Gal of the Israel Antiquities Authority. To read about dice and gaming pieces recovered from Roman public baths, go to “Oops! Down the Drain.”


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