Looking into the History of Dice

 Dice are small, typically six-sided cube – though, for certain games like Magic the Gathering, they can be larger – objects that you throw during a game. Each side has a mark, usually a dot, representing a number. You can use dice to generate random numbers as part of games of chance, role-playing games, board games, dice games, and tabletop games.

Each face of the dice bears a mark, where the number of dots or pips represents the numbers one to six. When you roll a dice, it comes to rest on one of its sides, showing a number between one and six randomly. What you consider is the number on the upper surface. But dice are not only cubes; they can also have irregular shapes, with their faces marked with symbols or numerals.

Brief history of dice

Chances are you had played with a pair of dice when you were a child. Scholars cannot determine the exact origin of the dice, but many historical records mention them. People believe that dice came about independently in various regions. This is because the structure of the dice looks so simple. But for game expert and archeologist Dr. Ulrich Schädler, director of the Swiss Museum of Games, it was a revolutionary idea to give value to the different sides of the object.

The dice has undergone many iterations through the years. Thus, the ancient dice looks very different from the ones they use at any online casino in Canada.

Sticks, knucklebones, and stones 

The dice did not start as a six-sided cube. Instead, the dice people used in ancient times were made of sticks, seeds, or shells with two sides. There were samples showing decorations on two sides, either using paint or carvings. The two-sided dice were common among many ancient peoples worldwide, from Native Polynesians to Aztecs.

The early four-sided dice that ancient Egyptians, ancient Greeks, and Indigenous Americans used were astragals or knucklebones. These are bones from the back ankle of hoofed animals such as horses, deer, goats, or sheep. Knucklebones are highly prized; thus, many ancient people wanted their astragals to be buried with them. In ancient Rome, they gave a name corresponding to the shape of each side of the knucklebone, such as the vulture, ear, hole, and belly.

Why did the dice become a cube?

Archeologists found samples of the cubic dice in the Indus Valley around 2500 BCE. The location was around modern-day Iraq and parts of northern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Scholars do not have a solid idea how the two-sided die became a six-sided one, but they believe the transformation happened to add randomness to the object.

Different format

While you can already recognize the cubic shape in ancient dice, they have differences from modern dice.

According to University of California Davis archeologist Jelmer Errkens, the ancient dice’s configuration typically put 1 opposite 2, 5 opposite 6, and 3 opposite 4. However, in the modern structure, as you can see from the dice that the opposite numbers always add up to seven.

Today, people use dice for various games. In ancient times, they used them to tell fortunes. So now, you know that the small objects you enjoyed playing with when you were young have a very long history.


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