This site is an online reference for re-creational medievalism, which involves making a sincere effort to reproduce the lifestyle of a race or region of the distant past. I am part of an organization dedicated to re-enacting life as a member of the Fifth Century (AD/CE) Irish Celtic nobility. If you found this page without checking my index page first, you will find more information there.

Eachna's Celtic Knucklebones Page

This page is still being rewritten by the day. I'm just getting a draft up to check on any reader reactions to the overall topic. Additional information on finding and cleaning these bones will be provided as soon as possible.

I've discovered different bones were used for different types of dice games. The "talus" bone is mentioned in Roman dice games as shown at the Roman Board Games page. This page is a good resource in general, as many Roman games made their way to Britain through conquest, and to Ireland through trade. The game, "Tali" is named after the specific type of bone used in that game. Other sections of bone and horn or antler were used for other games. From personal experimentation, I can say that the lamb's toe bone is quite evenly shaped and appears to be conducive to even tosses without requiring sawing or cutting of any sort.

For now, I will refer to two separate bones: the "talus" and the "phalange". These roughly correspond to the kneecap (talus - plural tali) and toe bones (phalange - plural phalanx).

The following book is an invaluable resource for learning about various period ways bone and bone-like materials were worked. "Bone, Antler, Ivory & Horn, the technology of skeletal materials since the Roman Period" by Arthur M. MacGregor, Croom Helm (London & Sydney)/Barnes and Noble (Totawa NJ), 1985

Types of Bones

Tali bones
The talus is a bone found in the knee area of the front shank. It can be found by cutting into the protective sheathing around the joint of the knee - it is the only small and complete bone in the knee area; the other bones are simply the ends of the two long bones of the leg. The shape is difficult to describe. There is an image on the Roman Board Games page. Otherwise, it is roughly rectangular, pinkish and white in color, and has a "S" curve to its profile. Turning it over in the hand will show a possible four sides it can land on when tossed, as well as two rounded edges (the top and bottom of the S).

Much of this description is more intuitive when you are looking at a possible specimen for identification.

Phalanx Bones
Each lamb foot has two bones that are longer than they are wide, with uniform edges. They are roughly an inch-and-a-half to two inches in length and about the diameter of a slim finger. These are the phalanx bones. If you look at them, they have four sides they can land on with a central stem or tube that can be carved with markings. They are much more regularly shaped than a talus bone, and therefore make better dice than said bone.

At any rate, they could be used for the modern children's game of "Jacks". They are sized to fit well in a child's hand.

Bone Cleaning

Use a very sharp boning knife to remove the bones you need from the limb. Be sure to remove any excess cartilage or shreds of flesh. Always practice basic knife and kitchen safety.

The bones can be cleaned a number of different ways.

After doing any of these methods, you may have to remove extra "shreds" of flesh. I tried the boiling method listed above, and still could not remove EVERY bit of meat. Once cleaned, you should set them aside to dry thoroughly.

All About Sal Soda
Provided by: Ifor of Gwent (

Sal soda is sodium carbonate, the same chemical as washing soda. Sodium carbonate typically comes in three forms - washing soda is the decahydrate, which is usually in the form of colourless crystals that look a bit like crushed ice. If left in the open air, these lose water and become the powdery white monohydrate (the sal soda mentioned above). Soda ash is the anhydrous compound.

Sodium carbonate an alkali, so it will be good for stripping away greasy substances such as fat and marrow. Don't use it with aluminium vessels or cutlery, and try to keep it off your hands, though it's not as nasty as sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) which is often used for unblocking drains.

Antler Dice

According to the MacGregor book mentioned above, dice were commonly carved out of antler. You would need the base of the antler to be sawn into a cube shape. The six sides could then be marked with dots or "pips" like modern dice. These dice could be used for board games or for gambling games.

Bone Marking

The most effective way to mark bones for tossing is to use a Dremel-Moto™ or flex-shaft drill bit. You can carve the appropriate numbers or symbols into the bone easily, without damaging the bone or the carving implement. You could also paint the symbols into place. Permenent markers work in a pinch.

Other marking information to follow.

Other Sites of Interest

Updated: Sunday, January 03, 1999 7:59:17 AM