This week the letter T takes its turn in the alphabet cycle and we’re going to take a trip through time with Toys. Toys come in many forms and their function is often thought of as purely entertainment, but in reality toys are an important tool in the development of our cultures. Social skills develop from interaction with others while playing games such as dominoes or marbles. Toys which aid in teaching a skill or lesson are educational, and yet other toys serve to stimulate creativity and independent thought.
Toys in the archaeological record generally represent a group that is often left out of the historic record, and barely evidenced in prehistory. Children constitute this silent group. This week we are going to examine a few of the toys in our collection and look at how those toys aid and influence childhood development.
As previously stated the presence of children in the prehistoric record is often difficult to identify. Early cultures were likely very nurturing of their children due to high infant mortality rates, but anthropologists believe that children who survived infancy were assigned chores at an early age. Our first example is a small clay pinch pot made by a child, possibly a girl learning to make clay pottery. Archaeologists often refer to these as “toy pots” because of their crude construction and childlike qualities. Women were likely responsible for making clay pots for cooking and storage, as men assumed the role of hunters who would travel seasonally large distances from the village. If women were making pottery and caring for young children, it is likely that involvement in the task of making pottery developed at an early age. While this could be considered an educational toy, it also lends itself to creative thought.
pinch pots / toy pots 36La3 Strickler Site
Our next example is a toy, but also a skill builder. The cup and pin game taught patience and hand-eye coordination. Accuracy and mental alertness were important skills for hunting and fishing and the social interaction was important in building trust, all necessary tools for survival. The elements of this game are simple and were readily available on prehistoric sites. Animal bones, usually deer or caribou toe bones were hollowed out and strung on cordage with a bone or wood pin at the other end. A piece of leather or fur at the other end of the cordage provided weight. Holding the pin the player would swing the bones up and try to insert the pin through the center of the hollowed bones. Points were scored based on which bone was caught on the pin. This traditional game is still played in various forms by Native peoples today.
pin and cup game - ethnographic collection State Museum of PA