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Astragali-deposit romania.jpg

Dice (or dice-like objects) are widely considered to be the oldest known game implements of any culture. The image above is of a deposit of astragali or animal knucklebones, which are an ancient form of dice, found in Romania and dated 4662-4465 cal BC. Dice were invented independently in many cultures as a technology of ritual, divination, chance, and gameplay. Dice are symbolic of chance (see left) as well as divine will or fate (see below), and play an integral role in the historical development of games from backgammon to Dungeons and Dragons.

Ancient Dice Games

The "casting of lots" and the use of dice in games is a practice that is depicted in many ancient cultures. The video above features scholars discussing a famous Greek pot depicting Achilles and Ajax, two heroes featured in Homer's Illiad, playing a dice game in between battles. Here the dice game is engaged as a pastime, but dice games also functioned as occasions for gambling among nobility, for example in the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata.

Modern Dice Games


Many modern games use dice to introduce elements of chance and probability into gameplay. Some like Yahtzee place standard six-sided dice at the center of play whereas others like Dungeons and Dragons use dice with up to twenty sides for mediating the outcomes of complex events and player actions in a fantasy world.


  1. "Prehistoric Dice Board Found--Oldest Games in America?" National Geographic
  2. "Astragali Deposit in Romania, Antiquity 84:323 (2010)
  3. C.S. Peirce on "Tychism"
  4. Dice
  5. Mahabharata
  6. History of Probability
  7. Cleromancy