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Vying to be the World’s Oldest Toy:  Is it the 4,000-Year-Old Rattle Found in Turkey or the 4,000-Year-Old Doll’s Head Found in Pantelleria, an Island off the Coast of Italy?

 

A team from the Ankara University Archaeology Department discovered a ceramic rattle that contains small pebbles, and dates back to 2,000 BCE. It was found in an area that is now the central Anatolian province of Kayseri, once the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Kanesh, in the 2nd millennium BCE.

Professor Fikri Kulako─člu, who heads the project, estimates that 4,000 years ago, the settlement was home to a population of up to 70,000 people who would have been a mix of Assyrian traders and the local Anatolian population.

“It is possible to find what we [commonly] find in houses today. We have found pots and pans, drinking vessels, an oven, seats, etc. We have seen all of these things in the excavations for nearly 70 years. There are also very interesting and unusual objects. Naturally, we find objects that we associate with babies.

“We have found a toy, which we estimate to date back 4,000 years, as being the oldest toy in the world. It is a [ceramic] rattle [with] pebbles inside. It makes a sound when it is shaken just like the baby rattles we all know today,” said Professor Kulako─člu in an interview with Hurriyet Daily News.

But this rattle isn’t the only discovery vying for the title of world’s oldest toy. Researchers often categorize certain types of items as toys, including objects that are miniaturized, or resemble toys in contemporary society. Archaeologists recently, unearthed a 4,000-year-old stone doll head on the Italian island of Pantelleria. Unlike other human figurines, the head wasn’t found in a religious or ceremonial context but was buried with miniature kitchenware, suggesting this too may have been a toy. About the size of a human thumb, the 1/2 inch terra cotta object is elongated in shape, with clearly visible eyes, nostrils, and a few wisps of curly hair. The find is all that remains of a doll’s head that may well be one of the oldest toys in the world.

 Next to the doll’s head, archaeologists also found some miniature utensils, and a set of toy kitchenware. “At first, we thought they could be votive objects,” explains archaeologist Fabrizio Nicoletti, “but we ruled this out because of the place where they were found. We think they may actually be children’s toys.”

The doll’s head was found in the ruins of a hut in what, according to the experts, must have been a village with about 1,000 inhabitants who actively engaged in trade. “The rest of the doll’s body,” says Professor Sebastiano Tusa, in charge of excavations, “was presumably made of cloth or wood, and has not been found, but the head could only have belonged to a doll. The traces of curls are very similar to those on statuettes found on Malta.” The  archaeologists have since intensified their excavation campaign at the site, which is proving to be a mine of ancient treasures.

Today archaeologists use a wide range of approaches to study perceptions of ancient children and the experience of being a child in the ancient world, looking at burial practices, literary sources, and artistic representations, as well as material culture.

Rattle story excerpted from the Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey.

Doll story excerpted from Stone Pages (www.stonepages.com) by Paola Arosio/Diego Meozzi.

Excerpted by Christina Rubin.

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