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Playing knucklebones
Title : Playing knucklebones Playing knucklebones
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Source : "Schoolgirls", Lameroo
Date of creation : ca. 1936
Format : Photograph
Contributor : State Library of South Australia
Catalogue record
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Description :

Grown-up "Schoolgirls" playing five stones

Two older girls play knucklebones or fivestones, watched by a large group of younger children. Knucklebones has been played for thousands of years and all around the world. It is known variously as knucklebones, jacks, jackstones, dibs, fivestones and a great number of other names. The game is depicted in Pieter Brueghel's famous painting of Children's games where two women are playing it in the bottom left hand corner.

Originally played with the ankle bones of sheep, the game can also be played with small stones, or even small bunches of buttons tied on a loop of string. Modern knucklebones are made of plastic, which lack the weight of the natural bone, or of metal. The rules are nearly as diverse as the game itself and with endless variations. A S Harrison writing in Boy's Own Paper 1881 gives a number of rules and concludes with "The game is an excellent one for exercising and developing that perfect sympathy between the eye and the hand which is certain to be of great service in after life." In contrast The Boy's Own Book 1849 while calling the game a 'very excellent in-door amusement' says that the rules 'are so numerous and intricate, that a description of them would occupy a much larger portion of our space than can be spared for the purpose...'

Iona and Peter Opie in Children's games with things wrote in 1997 that "ever since a girl in Banbury assured us that 'this game is played to different rules by nearly every child', we realized that it would be impossible to give the order of play for each locality ..." Mrs Jean Merrett, formerly of Williamstown, recorded the rules used in her childhood during the 1920s at Williamstown in South Australia. In these she names two variations at least that are not mentioned by name by either Harrison or the Opies: these are 'Scrapes', 'Sow the spuds' and 'Polly put the kettle on'.

Coverage year : 1936
Region : Murray Mallee
Further reading :

Opie, Iona, Children's games with things: marbles, fivestones, throwing and catching, gambling, hopscotch, chucking and pitching, ball-bouncing, skipping, tops and tipcat Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 1997

Games of the world: how to make them, how to play them, how they came to be edited by Frederic V. Grunfeld New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, c1975

Kartinyeri, Doris, Bush games and knucklebones; illustrated by Kunyi June-Anne McInerney Broome, W.A.: Magabala Books, 2003

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