Gaming and divination in the Hellenistic Levant: the case study of the astragalus assemblage from Maresha, Israel

Lee Perry-Gal, Ian Stern, Adi Erlich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Astragali — knuckle bones, especially caprine or cattle — were widely used in ancient societies. They functioned as playthings and tokens for ritual activity and divination, along with other uses. This study examines the assemblage of over 600 astragali from the excavations at Maresha in southern Israel. Maresha was a main city in the region of Idumea. Excavations at the site revealed a prosperous Hellenistic city, mainly from the 4th–2nd centuries BCE. The many caves hewn in the lower city yielded numerous small finds, among them the astragali, which are found in large concentrations in specific caves. This paper examines the morphology, taphonomy and modification of the astragali. Furthermore, the distribution of the astragali in the various caves is analysed, along with intra-site distribution, archaeological context and related objects, the aim being to decipher their use within the life of the city, especially in regard to gaming and divination.

Original languageEnglish
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Prof. Guy Bar-Oz for his assistance and contribution to this paper. The inscriptions were read by Dr Avner Ecker from Bar-Ilan University, to whom we are obliged. The XRF analysis was conducted by Prof. Sariel Shalev, to whom we are grateful. We thank Sapir Ahhd for her assistance with the graphic design and Roee Shafir for the photographing. The corresponding author would like to thank Yad Hanadiv Foundation (Rothschild Fellowship) for its generous support.

Publisher Copyright:
© Council for British Research in the Levant 2022.


  • astragali
  • divination
  • games
  • Hellenistic period
  • Maresha
  • southern Levant
  • zooarchaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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