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How a Dolos Became a Dice

Elizabeth Kott

How a Dolos
Became a Dice


Throwing the bones – a journey through
time and continents

Table of contents


South Africa

The Great Trek


The Etimology

The Dutch meaning

What the Scientists say

1.    Afrikaans – English origin

2.    The Bantu origin

3.    The Greek or Roman meaning

Dolosse as prediction in the rest of the world


The game of Dice

Playing Dice as lot

The first board games

Asian historical Dice

Predecessor of Backgammon

The Distribution by the Romans

The origin of Craps – or what might be the origin

Other Games of Dice

Distribution into the rest of the world


Persia (Iran)

East Asia







Dollose as Wave Breakers



As I was producing my book:

Mainzer Hauptfriedhof, ein Spaziergang durch

die Gärten der Vergänglichkeit”,

I came upon a picture of a little girl, throwing dice with knuckle bones.

She had a very contented and dreamy expression, staring into the distance. My husband and I were so impressed by this figurine that he photographed her on various times of the day, in different shades of light. He photographed her with the glaze of the sun falling onto her limbs; he photographed her with snow covering her slim body like a blanket. We were bewitched by this beautiful sculpture and fascinated that she threw dice with knuckle bones, like the children in the Great Trek did in South Africa.

Why does a German Cemetery place this Roman replica on a grave? I immediately exclaimed: “Look, she is throwing dice with “Dolosse”. This was the Afrikaans name we used for the knucklebones.

After I finished my book, I was wondering where the figure came from and how it happened that she played her game on a grave in the Main Cemetery of Mainz, in Germany. However, do we know whether it was a game?

In my mother country South Africa we know a similar occurrence, played by Voortrekker children 1838, during the Great Trek, when the Boers tried to flee from the predominance of the British. They organized themselves and travelled with their oxen wagons, all their belongings and their slaves, into the midlands, crossing the Drakensberg, to find new pastures for their cattle and build farms.

The children only had what they found during the breaks. The toys they had were mostly handmade dolls for the girls. The boys had to make their own toys. In the first place they needed lots of phantasy and small objects they could turn into toys with. It happened that they saw that the children of the Natives, who accompanied them, played with knucklebones of sheep or goats and imitated oxen. The jawbones of sheep served as an oxen wagon. The children harnessed their “oxen”, in spans of 4 or 6 oxen in front of their “jawbone oxen wagon”, although in reality the spans consisted of 16 to 18 oxen.

The original meaning of the knucklebones takes us far back in history.

Would you like to know how the story ends?

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