Five stones

This story could be recounted chronologically, beginning at the beginning and ending it at the end, but also in the order as its details gradually emerged through the comments of the past few days. The first way would highlight how many things can be found on the internet, but of course also how many not, wherefore the story could be recounted only with huge leaks. The second would stress how many people can be found on the internet who can be reached via some sites and whose impressive knowledge reveals such connections which one would have never thought about. Now I choose the second way.

The tango La Payanca was the first composition by Augusto Berto (1889-1953) – “el Oso”, “the Bear”, perhaps the first really great accordionist of Argentine tango – not long after he started his career in San Martín, near the outskirts of Buenos Aires, in the bar called “La milonga de don Juan y doña Virginia”. “I improvised it in one night when the dancers had already exhausted all our repertoire. After seventy or eighty pieces played in a row I had to improvise.”

La Payanca. Augusto Berto

Although the melody immediately became popular, for a long time it had even no title. As late as in 1917 Berto only wrote on the first published score: “Tango milonga on folk motifs”. The title Payanca was allegedly recommended by a friend. Its justification was attempted only much later in the two texts written to it by Juan Andrés Caruso (1890-1941, the famous poet of lyrics for Francisco Canaro and Carlos Gardel) and later by Jesús Fernández Blanco (1982-1963), respectively.

Graciella Bello: Lluvia, romance y tangos, 2005, with the photo of Carlos Gardel on the wall

La Payanca. Francisco Canaro

¡Ay!, una payanca yo
quiero arrojar
para enlazar
tu corazón
¡Qué vachaché!
¡Qué vachaché!
Esa payanca será
y ha de aprisonar
todo tu amor
¡Qué vachaché!
¡Qué vachaché!
Porque yo quiero tener
todo entero tu querer.

Mira que mi cariño es un tesoro.
Mira que mi cariño es un tesoro.
Y que pior que un niño po’ ella “yoro”…
Y que pior que un niño po’ ella “yoro”…

Payanca de mi vida, ay, yo te imploro.
Payanca de mi vida, ay, yo te imploro,
que enlaces para siempre a la que adoro…
que enlaces para siempre a la que adoro…
Oh! I would like to
throw a payanca
to reach with it
your heart.
What will you do?
What will you do?
This payanca
is a certain one
that will take captive
all your love.
What will you do?
What will you do?
Because I want you
to love only me.

Look, my love is a real treasure
Look, my love is a real treasure
and I cry for your love worse than a child
and I cry for your love worse than a child

Payanca of my life, oh, I beg you
Payanca of my life, oh, I beg you
to take captive forever her whom I love
to take captive forever her whom I love…

La Payanca. Roberto Firpo

Con mi payanca de amor,
siempre mimao por la mujer,
pude enlazar su corazón…
¡Su corazón!
Mil bocas como una flor
de juventud, supe besar,
hasta saciar mi sed de amor…
¡Mi sed de amor!

Ninguna pudo escuchar
los trinos de mi canción,
sin ofrecerse a brindar
sus besos por mi pasión…
¡Ay, quién pudiera volver
a ser mocito y cantar,
y en brazos de la mujer
la vida feliz pasar!

Payanca, payanquita
de mis amores,
mi vida la llenaste
de resplandores…
¡Payanca, payanquita
ya te he perdido
y sólo tu recuerdo
fiel me ha seguido!

Con mi payanca logré
a la mujer que me gustó,
y del rival siempre triunfé.
¡Siempre triunfé!
El fuego del corazón
en mi cantar supe poner,
por eso fui rey del amor…
¡Rey del amor!
With my payanca of love
I was always pampered by women,
I could take captive their hearts.
Their hearts!
A thousand mouths, a thousand flowers
of youth I could kiss
to quench my thirst of love.
My thirst of love!

None could listen
to the trills of my song
without offering her kisses
to my passion.
Oh, who can return
to be young again, to sing
and to pass life happily
in the arms of women!

Payanca, payanquita,
payanca of my love,
you have filled my life
with brilliance.
Payanca, payanquita,
I have long lost you
and only your memory
has followed me faithfully.

With my payanca I could reach
any woman that I liked, and I always
triumphed over my rival!
Always triumphed!
I could fill my song
with the fire of the heart
this is how I became the king of love.
The king of love!

Cristina Bergoglio (Buenos Aires): The last tango

La Payanca. Hector Varela

Medardo Pantoja, Quechua painter of Tilcara (1906-): Payana players

The payanca, which in the text figures in the meaning of “lasso throwing” or perhaps even “stone throwing”, was also a popular children’s game in Argentina throughout the 20th century, also known as payana, tinenti or even dinenti. Its essence is that the players have to toss up in the air one of the five stones laying on the earth, and to pick up the others one by one until it falls back, plus to grasp that one, too. Then they have to pick them up two by two, then three together plus one. Once they succesfully did it, there comes the tanteo, the “extra”, with a variety of tasks: for example, they also have to toss up the stones laying on the earth, or throw all five in the air and grasp them all.

A few days ago, after the publication of the photos of fin-de-siècle children’s games Москва, researching the history of La Payanca, inquired us whether we also had archive photos on this game, and we sadly had to admit that we did not. Nevertheless Araz soon realized that the rules of the game are the same as those of beşdaş, that is, “five stones”, played in Azerbaijan. In the 1980s he was surprised to see that in Uzbekistan this was a girls’ game, and he has since learned that it is widely played throughout Eastern Anatolia as beş taş. He has also included this video where Turkish girls play it very skillfully:

In the meantime Москва also investigated further, and found that the game is also played in Serbia, and that its English equivalent is jackstones or knucklebones, as it has been played since antiquity all over the Mediterranean with the knucklebones of sheep or goats. In Greek it is called ἀστράγαλοι and in Latin tali, meaning the same. Moreover, a video was also found where a Korean player documents his skills:

A propos of ἀστράγαλοι Araz also added that the Turkish for knucklebone is aşık, and this – ашик – is the name of the game in Bulgaria as well. On 9th and 10th-century Azerbaijani archaeological sites lots of such bones, once used for game, were found. Moreover, an Israeli friend of him also reported that “five stones” was a popular game in his childhood as well.

At this point entered the research Language Hat, who confirmed that the game, known as “gonggi”, is really widespread in Korea among girls, so that each province has a particular name and rules for it. And he also quoted from Elizabeth Yoel Campbell’s Yesterday’s Children: Growing Up Assyrian in Persia attesting that in the 1920s it was still played under the Azeri name besh dash by Assyrian children in the Northern Persian town of Maragha.

The blog of Language Hat is like a first-class international language research institute and an elite London club in one, where the host every morning raises something interesting in a few line – what a science it is, to raise something in a way it appears interesting! – and the visitors from all over the world add their completitions. By the end of the day usually a solution is outlined which is always much more exciting than you would have thought at the beginning.

This knowledgeable readers’ circle now also immediately mapped on the basis of their readings or personal experiences where the game is played in the world and where not. It is played from Nepal throughout the Indian subcontinent to Malaysia and Singapore, and from Central Asia through Anatolia and the Latin Mediterranean to South America on the one hand and to the Netherlands on the other, the latter two being most probably the result of Spanish influence. However, we have found no example either from Arabic lands or from Europe outside the Mediterranean sphere. On this basis some people suggested the possibility that maybe the game was spread over the Silk Road. It is also very interesting that in most places it has been explicitly a girls’ game.

I have placed on the following map the various suggestions and data, provided with their sources. Red dots indicate the “five stone” game (either with stones or with knucklebones) and blue dots the use of knucklebones for any game.

Although we also found some descriptions of the game on the Persian net – here, here, or here –, nevertheless they all described its version known in the Iranian Azerbaijan, even providing its original name: باش داش “besh dash”. There was only one site reporting about the game outside of Azerbaijan province, but it turned out to be written in the Golestani city of Gomishan, whose very name, coming from Turkic “kümüsh”, ‘silver’ shows that it lays in the Turkmen region of Northern Iran, so it is no wonder that the game is also called “besh dash” here, and its version played with three stones “üch dash”, ‘three stones’.

Turkmen girls playing bash dash in Gomishan and featuring on a school ceremony

However, to our great surprise, a Hungarian data was also found. In the article “Women’s works in Zoboralja” by Zsuzsanna Tátrai in the 1995 issue of Néprajzi Látóhatár (Horizons of Ethnography) a female informer born in 1911 speaks about the games they played as little goose-girls in the 1920s on this very archaic Hungarian language island to the north of Nitra:

“We played with little stones. With five stones we did all kinds of games. We picked smooth stones. You had to toss it up and in the meantime pick up others, to be so skillfull to pick up and also to grasp that one when falling back. First you picked up one, then two at once, then three, and then one again. You had to be skillfull. If the stone fell, you lost, and it was the other’s turn.”

Gooseherd in the puszta of Ecseg, 1907. Photo by István Györffy

After the publication of this post our reader Tamás Braun announced in a comment that he also knew this game and played it with pebbles in Budapest in the 50s, at the age of 8-10, and it was called “bikázás” (bull-fight). On the basis of the name I found it in other texts as well. Renowned contemporary authors Péter Lengyel and Endre Merényi refer to it a couple of times in their childhood remembrances Búcsú két szólamban (Farewell in two voices), and a short story in the famous literary journal Nyugat (West) mentions it in 1928 as a favorite pastime of unemployed workers, but neither describes it, as if it were something generally known. Moreover, it is also mentioned in the scenario (2005) made of Nobel laureate Imre Kertész’s Fateless. However, the director here felt that it must be explained, even if this discredits the figure of the Budapest tough guy in 1944: how is it that he does not know?

“– I’ve got a couple of pebbles: who feels like playing “bull-fight”? – shouts the Gigolo.
– How do you play it? – Moshkovich asks.
– ’Tis simple as a piece of cake – the Gigolo explains. – You put down a handful – he also shows what he says –, then you toss up one, and whoever grabs the most from the earth until it falls back…”

Boys playing at the Danube in Budapest, 1963. Photo by Endre Friedmann

Then, following the thread of the synonyms it also turned out to have been called “kapókövezés” (pebble-grabbing), and to have been played all over the country. The Hungarian Ethnographic Lexicon has a separate entry on it, but it is also described in detail by Áron Kiss’s classical Magyar gyermekjáték-gyűjtemény (Collection of Hungarian children’s games, 1891). And the Gyermekjátékok (Children’s Games, 1980) by Hintalan-Lázár even provides a short verse chanted by the inactive players:

Babona, babona, vaskereszt,
Ha elejted, az se lesz.
Magic, magic, iron cross,
let it fall and you will lose.

“Pebble-grabbing” played by girls in early 20th-century Transylvania (Szék or Szolnok-Doboka county)

Москва also discovered a 19th-century quotation, which shows that the game of “камушки” – “pebbles” – was very popular among girls in Southern Russian Tula. The game is mixed with Orthodox religious metaphors, and the text also has a number of “magic formulas” the girls whispered during the game in order to bend the victory towards themselves. The blog author also adds at the end that the game is still popular in the same region.

Andrei Karelin (1837-1906): Two peasant family from the Tula government

And Minus273 found two descriptions at the other end of the Silk Road, on the Chinese net, here and here, where the game is called 抓石子 zhuā shízǐr, “pebble-grabbing”. He translated it like this:

“I recall that, what we boys loved the most to play as children is pebble-grasping. Five same-sized pebbles are knocked out from a stone. (The size must befit the size of your hands) To play the game, you drop the five pebbles with one hand, take a pebble, to toss up to the sky. Within the interval before the pebble falls, you need to grasp the pebbles on the ground, and catch the falling pebble. Failure to catch it, or failure to grasp the pebbles on the ground means loss. You get a/some score with the successful grasping. When the scores are enough, it’s time for pass-crossing. The pass-crossing consists of making the thumb and index finger of the (left) hand touch the ground. While you toss the pebble up, you send the pebbles on the ground across the downside of your left hand, with your right hand. Whoever has sent all the pebbles across successfully crosses the pass. The one who crosses the largest number of passes wins.”

“Usually it’s a couple of girls playing together…”

However, on the illustration of the Chinese description we see no pebbles but the same knucklebones, the Turkish aşıks which, under the name of ἀστράγαλος and talus, were also used for playing in the ancient Mediterranean, and which most probably had been brought to China from the Central Asian nomadic tribes just as the Greek tradition considered them of Asian origin.

Araz also sent some good links on the importance of aşık in modern Central Asia. The above photos were used to illustrate the game of ашики in the series on “Forgotten plays” of the web portal of Ferghana province in Usbekistan. And the following two photos show the peak of the career of aşık, also called альчики in Russian: in Kazakstan, in the town of Atyrau even two monuments were raised to it, moreover in a scientific-educational context, apparently in evocation of good luck, which seems to show that among the two main uses of aşık, here the game of chance is preferred to beş taş.

In ancient Greece, aşık or ἀστράγαλος was definitely regarded as a foreign game. But while Plato derived it together with every other kind of wisdom from Egypt, Herodotus, who was more versed in the Persian empire, emphasized its Anatolian origins.

The sons of the king of Carcemish (North Mesopotamia, Anatolia) play with sheep bones. 9th c. BC See more here.

A girl playing with ἀστράγαλοι/tali. Roman statue, ca. 130-150 AD. Berlin, Antikenmuseum

From Classical literature we have a detailed knowledge on the use of these knucklebones, which was twofold, just as that of aşık. On the one hand, they were used similar to dice, attributing four different values to the four flat sides: 1, 3, 4, 6. The rules of the game are presented in details on the site of Roman antiquities by Wladyslaw Jan Kowalski, and we can read about them in a very entertaining way in the dialogue entirely dedicated by Erasmus to this game. The actors of the dialogue are the shepherd boy Ganymedes, kidnapped and brought to heaven by Zeus, who in his heavenly boredom tries to teach the rules of the game to little Eros. And moreover on this page we even find a modern statistical analysis on how likely the knucklebone falls on the one or the other side.

Greek bone astragalus, 500-300 BC, from here

Greek lead astragalus, 500-300 BC, from here

Greek bronze astragalus, 600-100 BC, from here

The so-called Sotades astragalus, a vase in the form of astragalus from Greece, ca. 460 BC. British Museum

The astragalus as a magic object bringing good luck also featured on several coins.

Two Roman aes grave uncia, ca. 230-226 BC from here

A coin from an unknown Anatolian city, 4th c. BC, from here

Siculo-Punic silver tetradrachma, 300-289 BC, with an astragalus in front of the horse head, from here

Campania (Neapolis), didrachma, 320-300 BC, with an astragalus behind Nike’s head, from here

Corinth, silver stater, 345-307 BC, with an astragalus behind Athene’s head, from here

However, there was also another version of knucklebone games, called “pentelitha”, that is “five stones” in ancient sources. There is no surviving description on its rules. But it seems that it was primarily played by girls, and as their gestures attest, they played it in the same way as all the other girls in the past two and a half thousand years from Singapore through China to the Mediterranean and South America.

Girls playing with astragalus. Hellenistic Greek terracotta group. Capua or Apulia, 330-300 BC. British Museum

Girls playing with astragalus. Terracotta pyxis from Attica, with an astragalus as a handle of the cover, 425-400 BC. New York Metropolitan Museum

The survival of this game in the Mediterranean are attested by such representations as the following painting from 1734 by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) in the Museum of Baltimore, where a girl is playing or practising a game very similar to beş daş with four traditional knucklebones and a throwing ball. Or by Pieter Brueghel’s Children’s Games, often quoted here at Río Wang, in whose lower left corner two little girls are completely absorbed in playing beş daş – with astragaloi! And it is also attested by Wang Wei, according to whom in his childhood, in the 60s the game was played all over Mallorca by the girls, and although it was called “cinquetes” or “pedretes”, nevertheless it was played in the ancient way, with knucklebones, which were not difficult to obtaion in the then largely rural Mallorca. His sister had a whole collection of the most handy knucklebones, and as she usually keeps everything, he hopes these were not thrown away either. If she still has them, and he manages to take a photo, we will also publish it together with the magic formulas which, similarly to the Russian girls, were whispered by Mallorcan girls during the game, if she still remembers them.

And the game has of course survived in Greece too, where today it is known as πεντόβολο or πεντόβολα, that is “five obulus” and its rules are identical to how it is played in the other places. Its name also figures on the page dedicated to “forgotten Greek children’s games”, where a beautiful video presents with archive photos a great part of these games (unfortunately not including the pentovolo):

And just as at the Western end of Mediterranean culture the payana, so at its Eastern end the pentovolo also inspired a song, whose text was written by none less than the Nobel laureate poet Odysseas Elytis. The children’s song is part of the cycle The Sovereign Sun, whose initial piece, The Song of the Sun was already quoted by us twice in two posts dedicated to the eulogy of the Mediterranean. Its music was written by Dimitris Lagios, and it is sung by Eleni Vitali in 1982.

Odysseas Elytis: Ο Ήλιος ο Ηλιάτορας (The Sovereign Sun). Music by Dimitris Lagios, sung by Eleni Vitali (1982). 6. The song of the little girl

Δύο συ και τρία γω
πράσινο πεντόβολο
μπαίνω μέσα στον μπαξέ
γεια σου κύριε μενεξέ.

Σιντριβάνι και νερό
και χαμένο μου όνειρο.
Τζίντζιρας τζιντζίρισε
το ροδάνι γύρισε.

Χοπ αν κάνω δεξιά
πέφτω πάνω στη ροδιά.
Χοπ αν κάνω αριστερά
πάνω στη βατομουριά.

Το 'να χέρι μου κρατεί
μέλισσα θεόρατη
τ' άλλο στον αέρα πιάνει
πεταλούδα που δαγκάνει
two for you and three for me
green pentovolo
I enter the garden
hello mister hyacinth

fountain and water
and my lost dreams
a cicada is chirring
the wheel of the well cranking

if I hop to the right
I fall on the pomegranate
if I hop to the left
I fall on the blackberry

in the one hand
I’m holding a huge bee
if I stretch the other
I catch a butterfly

29 comentarios:

alessandra dijo...

Ho appena letto il post. Il gioco è presente anche in Italia, ma al momento non ricordo da chi ne ho sentito parlare. Di certo l'ho visto giocare da qualcuno o qualcuno me l'ha mostrato come gioco della sua infanzia. Io non ho mai giocato. Forse un gioco di un paese del Trentino? ma non ne sono sicura, indagherò. Buona giornata a voi.

Studiolum dijo...

Grazie, Alessandra. Sí, sarebbe molto interessante vedere se si gioca ancora in Italia (come giustamente aspetteremmo da un antico gioco mediterraneo), e se le regole sono le stesse delle altre versioni. Sarebbe specialmente interessante sapere il nome – o i nomi –, perché pare che, a parte dell’Asia Centrale, il nome cambia dappertutto mentre le regole rimangono fisse. Infatti il Trentino, con la sua relativamente conservativa cultura di montagna pare un candidato verosimile per la sopravvivenza del gioco. Grazie in anticipo per qualsiasi data, e buona giornata!

Araz dijo...

Wonderful post, Studiolum, congratulations again! Special thanks of course go to MOCKBA who initiated this avalanche, and to everybody who contributed with amazing details. It is so strange that for so many years observing Pieter Brueghel's work, which was actually the cover of one of my favourite childhood books in German, I never noticed aşıqs. I would just quote languagehat: Once again we see that Poemas del río Wang is an intellectual and spiritual Silk Road of our day.

minus273 dijo...

The knucklebones are in fact for another game, very popular in Manchuria. It's called gǎlāhā in Chinese, persumably the Manchu word for "knucklebone", and it's generally held that the Chinese learnt the game from the local Manchus.

Studiolum dijo...

Dear Araz, thank you for your good ideas, links and opinions. In fact it was you who – like a good beşdaş player – did not let the thread fall after Москва’s question, so it is primarily due to you that it took this exciting turn. Let us continue it with the other games in Brueghel’s picture – there will be certainly a number of similarly widespread ones!

BTW Szék seems to be ever-present: the only photo I found of this game in the Hungarian folk tradition is most probably from there.

Minus273: Yes, it seems that the double use of aşık – dices or five-stones – is present in all cultures using it. Even though the Chinese game is described with pebbles, I guess it was also originally played with knucklebones.

francesca dijo...

My mother played it when she was a child in Veneto ("giogar a sassetti", i.e. to play with little stones). In her childhood, after WWII, it was still extremely popular. In Italy it is known also as "aliossi", where "ossi" is the Italian for "bones". You can find a lot of evidence under this name: for example in Ercolano and in Sicily.

I just found that the French word is "osselets", again: little bones.

And, last but not least, let me thank you for this great, great post, Studiolum.

alessandra dijo...

Ecco qui una nuova informazione, trovata in rete, a questo indirizzo:


A questo gioco partecipavano due giocatori (era particolarmente diffuso tra le ragazze e le bambine). Si cominciava spargendo per terra cinque biglie o altrettanti sassi tondi. Si lanciava quindi in aria un sasso e si doveva riprenderlo. Prima di far questo, però, con la stessa mano si doveva prendere un secondo sasso e tenerlo. Dopo aver preso l’altro, il secondo sasso andava lanciato in aria, ma prima di riprenderlo si doveva raccogliere un terzo sasso. Si proseguiva in questo modo fino al quinto sasso. Dopo aver preso tutti i sassi, si dovevano porre sul dorso della mano per poi riprenderli con il palmo. Per vincere non si doveva commettere alcun errore.

Sembra confermato che si trattava di un gioco per bambine, soprattutto, cosa del resto abbastanza comprensibile, essendo un gioco statico e quindi, per "senso comune" poco adatto ai maschi.
Comunque resto convinta di averlo visto giocare anche oggi,ma non riesco a sapere dove.

Languagehat dijo...

A superb roundup -- thank goodness Blogger is letting you post again!

I hadn't known the Greek word μπαξές for 'garden'; it is of course from Turkish bahçe, and I see there's an idiom είναι μπαξές 'he has his heart in the right place,' which I very much like. Language is a net that takes us on great adventures!

MOCKBA dijo...

A beautiful post, Studiolum! I'd love to swing back, momentarily, to Berto's classic La Payanca, a tango "based on a folk tune". You already link to todotango's pages, but I think that it is a proper time to retell their doubts and guesses in my own words.

Basically in the world of gauchos, the payanca is a very specific way of throwing a lasso, the one which snares an animal by one's front legs (literally known as "arms" there). Snaring her love, or her heart, by the arms is a very strange metaphor, yet somehow it is used in both "official" texts of the lyrics. And the incongruous explanations by Berto himself don't add any clarity (one one occasion Berto explained that "it was just a random name suggested by a listener", on another he told that he was inspired by a scene of children trying to catch a hen, which a passerby told them "to snare with a payanca" ... as if chicken have front and hind legs ... or make sensible metaphors of love)

Todotango suspects that it was all simple obfuscation of the fact that the "folk motif" has already been associated with the name Payanca, a nickname of a certain call girl. But the folk couplet remembered by the oldtimers was just a touch too obscene to admit such a link:

Payanca, Payanquita,
No te apresures,
Que el polvo que te echo
Quiero que dure!

BTW my fav record of La Payanca (by Conjunto Berretin) uses yet another lyrics. Well, it's kind of like Blanco's letras, but since Berretin's singer is female, they replace all "mujer" references to "varon", etc. And Rey del amor becomes, of course, Reyna :)

Douglas Kretzmann dijo...

down in South Africa the game was in Afrikaans named 'klip-klip', as Language Hat notes..
heaven knows how it arrived there, via Malay slaves or Dutch masters or some Jungian archetype.
The first diamond from Kimberley was discovered in a set of 'klip-klip' stones. It was otherwise played with the traditional knucklebones, also known as dolosse.

Thank you for the song from the Sovereign Sun, enchanting.

Delphine dijo...

Great post (and great blog)! Thanks.

Yes, we were playing that game when I was growing up in France in the late 1970's. The "osselets" were shaped like knucklebones but made of metal. The one that was meant to be thrown in the air was painted red and the four other were just the natural metal color (silvery). After a while, the red paint would chip off because of all the knocking, so you would ask your mom to repaint it with her nail polish. This brings back nice memories.

Effe dijo...

Astonishing. A world roundtrip in five stones.
I played that game in my childhood in Italy. I thaught it to my sons. It was called simply Five Stones. I remmber it as a summer-game, and we also used to play it throwing peach-stones instead of real stones.
Two more thing:
1) Why just 5 stones, as a general rule? Five like the fingers, or what else?
2) I recall that those astragaloi we played with were linked to a magical praxis of soothsaying, but can't remmber exactly why.

Effe dijo...

in italian:
notizie dal museo archelogico di Taranto:
Da wikipedia, nella cui pagina in italiano si trovano altri link esterni oltre a quelli che riporto qui :
"Esistono testimonianze della pratica del gioco in Madagascar [2] e più in generale in Africa, dove è chiamato Tsibato[3]"


Giacomo Ponzetto dijo...

Per i lettori italiani, un po' datato ma interessante è L'Antico giuoco degli astragali.

L'originale è tedesco ma non pare disponibile su internet in quella lingua:

Rohlfs, Gerhard. 1963. Antikes Knöchelspiel im einstigen Großgriechenland. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks to everybody for the good words and for the additional data. Now I have placed them on map to illustrate the occurrences of “five stones” and knucklebones all over the world. It is above in the text, here. Please check it, correct it and enrich it!

E dijo...

Five stones looks like jacks:

Why do you call the women in Uzbekistan girls? All the images of "boys" are children, but girl seems to be any female. If you are only going to use boy/girl don't forget to call grown men boys!

Your blog is one the best always a delight to read with so many different ideas.

Araz dijo...

Dear Studiolum, I have actually asked my Mongolian sister in law and she distantly recognised both beşdaş and aşıq. A short search revealed several links. One about bone games and one about Mongolian knucklebones. Mongolians call aşıq as shagai. This will hopefully remove the "question mark" in the map for Mongolia.

francesca dijo...

I love this. I'm quite confident you'll end up covering the whole world map.

All men are equal: they have two eyes, one nose, one mouth, two arms, two legs, and five stones in their pocket.

Studiolum dijo...

Well, until the two legs it’s all right, but not all of them have five stones in their pocket. There are some who have only three. Others have five sheep bones. Others a handful of chestnuts or shells. This is what makes man-created world exciting. I’m sure that even if I will cover the whole world, I will do it with lots of different colors meaning the closer or further equivalents of the original “five stones” and “knucklebones”.

E: Thank you for the good words. I called the Uzbekistani girls girls simply because my source called them like this (and I think he spoke about really young girls). It seems that this game is played all over the world mostly by quite young girls, in some places also by young boys, and in a very few places also by grown men.

Yes, Jacks figures on the map, in the USA – because this name was only reported from there. The version “Jackses”, with a double plural was reported from SW England as well as from some Central and South American countries (obviously due to an Anglo-Saxon influence).

Delphine dijo...

The map is such a great idea! ! Just a small correction: in French, the word is spelled "osselet". Thanks!

MOCKBA dijo...

I couldn't see the Latest Comments columns anymore, is it something which can fixed in this blog? Anyway, reposting from LH:

A few more lines of historic trivia about knucklebones (of course dice are known as "bones" in many languages, and the archetypal dice game is the backgammon, so I decided to check the origins of backgammon). Well, it appears that the earliest known board game dice weren't knucklebones.

Apparently the oldest backgammon-like set, ca. 3000 BC, from a Bronze Age settlement in Eastern Iran, has rather modern-looking 6-side ivory dice. Potentially even older Egyptian game of Senet uses two-sided disks (wooden?). But the Royal Game of Ur, probably 2800 BC, uses two knucklebones as dice, one a sheep bone, another a cattle bone.

I assume that the players of the Royal Game could afford any material or craftsmanship, so the knucklebones must have been selected by them because it "felt right". Probably because of some sacred significance attached to knucklebone-divining in this region where cattle and sheep have been first domesticated? Are there even older archeological finds suggesting the use of knucklebones in divining?

Studiolum dijo...

Since the big collapse of Blogger in the last week the Latest Comments has gone wrong: it did not refresh the comments, but slowed down the complete download of the page. There must be something in it that has not yet been corrected by Blogger. I will watch it, and when it works properly, I will put it back.

Yes, I have read your comment in LH, and I’m thinking about it. I have just read the German-Italian article recommended by Giacomo Ponzetto, and it had some hints to this. I will resume it.

Studiolum dijo...

Now I found a third party Recent Comments widget in Javascript which seems to function properly. I have added it to the blog.

Araz dijo...

I just found my favourite childhood book yesterday: Beim Spiel by Rose- Marie Frenzel, which is not available at Google Books. And, surprise, just the second page of it contains a fresca from Pompey with children playing knuckle-bones:

MOCKBA dijo...

Just finished reading Dark Tangos (a Quiet American-inspired thriller cum anthropology study written by a real-life tanguero cum music-fiction author). The 5 stones on the human palms make a pivotal appearance in the novel, although it isn't for a child's game. So I couldn't help coming back to this Rio Wang post!

Another poignant language observation there is about yeismo, how an American yearning, and failing, to return to Buenos Airies querido becomes overcome with nostalgia when he hears Spanish words spoken the Argentinian way, rather than the standard Mexican way - spoken by a fellow American! The one sound of "ll" just fills him with homesickness.

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks a lot for recommending the book! I have just begun to read it, and the first pages make it look promising. And I’m obviously curious of the eventual meanings of the five stones.

I can imagine a yearning for yeismo. I myself feel something similar when hearing, say, in a TV interview, the touchingly benevolent Andalucian “ll” pronounced as ʒ.

Araz dijo...

Just came across another "five stones" from Macedonia

Graciela Bello dijo...

Thanks for showing my tango painting "Lluvia, romance y tangos". If you love argentinean Tango, I have a special blog about it:

Congratulations for your work, very interesting blog!!!

Molly dijo...

I'll tell you how I got here; and see if anyone here can offer any insight.

We have a series of posters like this in our living room: , 1930s London Transport posters, painted by maritime artist Charles Pears. Each one, in a fine-print caption, says "painted on five stones by Chas. Pears".

Is Five Stones a ship?
An island?
Using stones as...a canvas?

Any thoughts?