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Rare knucklebone dice give glimpse of Hellenistic gaming in ancient Israel

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A rare collection of animal knucklebone gaming dice, used 2,300 years ago during the Hellenistic period, were found to be inscribed with the names of various deities as well as game instructions, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

So-called “astragali,” knucklebones of goats, sheep and cattle, were used as dice in gaming and for ritual divination, mostly by women and children, the statement said.

The 530 astragal were found several years ago in a large underground cave complex at the Maresha-Bet Guvrin National Park in the Judean foothills in southern Israel. Research into their inscriptions and use was published for the first time recently in the peer-reviewed Levant journal.

Many of the dice had Greek inscriptions including engravings with “the names of gods associated in ancient times with human wishes and desires,” the IAA said in a statement.

Among those names on the astragali were Aphrodite, the goddess of fertility, love and beauty; Eros, the god of love; the god Hermes; the goddess Hera; and Nike, the goddess of victory.

Other knucklebones had instructions and game roles such as “Robber,” “Stop!” and “You are burnt,” the researchers found.

Some of the astragali........

© The Times of Israel

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