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
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.
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.
- Boil in water for between 15 minutes and half an hour.
- Soak overnight in bleach (bones will smell like bleach for some time afterwards).
- Pour hydrogen peroxide over the bones and watch it foam. Continue to pour until foaming ceases.
- The natural method: place in a safe area outside (safe from wandering domestic and wild animals) where ants or other carrion-eating insects can reach the bones. A glass jar with large holes in the lid is recommended. Let the insects clean the bones for you. This is a time-consuming yet very effective method.
- A modification of the above (fourth) method: You might be able to find information on ordering special beetles to clean the bones. I don't really know anything about them, but, there are supposed to be beetles that eat flesh off any sort of skeleton that are used within the medical/taxidermy professions. Supposedly, that's how anatomical human and animal skeletons are cleaned.
- A butcher/taxidermy worker suggested boiling the bones in something called "sal soda".Apparently, that is what they use in his taxidermy shop in order to clean skeletons for hunters. It is suppose to dissolve tissue and cartiliage into a gel that can be rinsed off. He gave me a large bag for free, and it worked quite well on the first batch of bones I used it on.
- All About Sal Soda
Provided by: Ifor of Gwent (BarkerT@logica.com)
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.
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.
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
- Medieval and Rennaisance Games is a link site that can direct you to a wide selection of pages detailing many different dice, card, board, and other types of really old games.
Updated: Sunday, January 03, 1999 7:59:17 AM