leftovers of some occult ceremony or just a place where children play?
June 15, 2020 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Why Ancient Toys Are Elusive Artifacts (Discover): In the past and today, [adult rituals and children’s play] leave similar material traces. They often involve miniatures, like effigies or dolls, carefully arranged — perhaps on an altar or make-believe tea party table. Both create unusual patterns of debris, distinct from everyday acts like tool making and food preparation. And rituals and play generally occur in peripheral spaces, away from the hubbub of daily life. [...] But over the past few decades, scholars have taken more interest in ancient children and developed methods to identify their marks -- traces left from kids' labor, learning and play. Thanks to this research, we now have some sense of the toys and games that amused children of the past.
posted by not_the_water (15 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I’ve often wondered what future archaeologists will think if they find traces of my childhood doll funerals.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:00 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


why not both? dot gif.
posted by bartleby at 11:17 AM on June 15


Ancient toys are some of my favorite things. I love these little wooden horses from Roman Egypt.
posted by Mouse Army at 11:18 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


In the canyon behind my grandparents' house, my dad and his siblings carved roads into one of the rocks to play with their toy cars. That was in the early 1950s. In the late 80s, my cousins, my brother and I expanded on that network of roads and drove our own Matchbox cars there. We don't live there anymore, but I always kind of enjoyed imagining my own kids playing there someday - at the very least I'd like to show them the spot.

I also always kind of wondered what a future archaeologist would make of that little network of paths carved in the rock, out in the woods, without the toy cars to provide clues.
posted by nickmark at 11:24 AM on June 15 [7 favorites]


You know what else is making it hard to find traces of children's play? Parents. I'm always cleaning up dead worm and fern leaf mandalas. "Generally occur in peripheral spaces" sounds like survivorship bias to me.
posted by bdc34 at 12:54 PM on June 15 [10 favorites]


Ha, my whacky pack is collection is in a salt mine.

Interesting that most toys found generally reflect society designated. Toy animals, tools, and figurines;

now this toy is almost 90 years old and to find must cost a half years dig.

"Science fiction toys show us how people have imagined spaceflight. Some of those visions inspired real discoveries—and real engineers. The Buck Rogers toys demonstrate Americans’ excitement about spaceflight even decades before the first humans launched into space.”
posted by clavdivs at 1:28 PM on June 15


This makes me think of that bit in John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty" in which he says, of course these rights shouldn't be extended to primitive peoples, who are still basically children ("those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage"). I wonder how much of that kind of thinking seeped into, "These childish objects are probably the product of child-like adults."
posted by clawsoon at 1:31 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


I sometimes wonder about all the playground stuff that kids teach other—things that aren’t passed down per se, but more like passed along. Oral only, never recorded, like counting rhymes or verses used to play games. How far do they go back? And if I returned to my childhood Pittsburgh neighborhood, would I hear variants of what I learned 50+ years ago?
posted by kinnakeet at 1:44 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


interesting. the toys in question are all hand made and seem to serve purpose save the figurine thing which could be ritual, your 10, did the hunt, here's your ____. Handmade can last through time in certain circumstances. King Tut took a few toys with him.
but the old adage, put childhood things away would make finding toys harder.
posted by clavdivs at 4:25 PM on June 15


In the MFA in Boston, in the ancient Greek exhibit, there is a painted ball marked for a little girl called Myrrhine, who died sometime around the 6th century BC. I always stop to look at it.

When I studied classical Greece, I learned that women were so much less than men that it was hard to imagine how much less a little girl would have been loved, and yet here were Myrrhine's parents, who gave her a specially painted ball, for her grave goods if not during her life. And it may have been during her life--it was designed to be swung and rattled, and it was decorated with cute boys (pais kalos). It is just clearly a fun thing. Someone wanted Myrrhine to have fun.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:57 PM on June 15 [18 favorites]


I sometimes wonder about all the playground stuff that kids teach other—things that aren’t passed down per se, but more like passed along. Oral only, never recorded, like counting rhymes or verses used to play games. How far do they go back? And if I returned to my childhood Pittsburgh neighborhood, would I hear variants of what I learned 50+ years ago?

You would be surprised how far they go back and how far they may go in the future. Check out the books by Iona and Peter Opie:

Children’s Games in Street and Playground (1969)
The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959)

These books were based on field research in Britain. I found stuff I knew growing up in California. There is an amazing oral network where this stuff gets passed around. Do you remember Great green gobs of gooshy gushy gopher guts. It’s in these books.
posted by njohnson23 at 6:25 PM on June 15 [5 favorites]


[ahem] Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts.
posted by clawsoon at 6:47 PM on June 15 [11 favorites]


"And thus began what archeologists refer to as the 'War of the Gopher Guts'."
posted by Horkus at 6:51 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Begun, the Gopher Guts Wars have.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:54 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


I don't know if this is reflected in the view of the scientists working with this stuff but every single weird/unknown thing that gets dug up/discovered of pre-historic people are always speculated in the press along the lines of "Researchers don't know what FOO was for but think it could be for religious/ritual reasons". Drives. Me. Crazy. All you have to do is look around and you see present day animals doing stuff for fun but yet it is seemingly impossible for actual humans to have done anything except for work/sex/religion. Nothing they ever dig up could be the stone age equivalent of a fidget spinner. Every petroglyph has to be recording a good hunt or depicting the gods rather than just paleolithic graffiti or art. Even in cases where they are found alongside current day graffiti glyphs.
posted by Mitheral at 10:19 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]


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