Before today’s visionaries invented video games, moms, dads, granddads, and grandmoms enjoyed simpler, more manual mechanisms for playtime. But what about their parents and the parents of their parents, or the dads, moms, granddads, and grandmoms before them? What kind of toys did the oldest people in the world play with as babies and kids who didn’t have Play Stations or Xboxes to spend hours and hours of playtime on?
The answer might actually surprise a lot of people. Historical studies, archaeological digs, and anthropological research have discovered some entertaining trinkets that resemble early toys. From Egyptian spinning tops to muddy dolls, there have been interesting unearthings that have given experts a clear picture of what the oldest toys to ever exist are.
The Stick is the Clear Winner
Studies have uncovered some interesting toys throughout the years. Discoveries include 6000-year old spinning tops on King Tut’s grave, ancient dolls, and wheeled sticks that are depicted in the mosaics of the Great Palace of Constantinople dating back to the 6th century.
Among all these findings, however, the common denominator is the stick. Yes, sticks or long thin pieces of wood have been found to be a common element in many anthropological and archaeological studies on ancient forms of entertainment. The tops, the dolls, the wheeled sticks, and many other relics have been discovered to all be grounded in the use of sticks as toys.
The Strong National Museum of Play inducted the stick into the National Toy Hall of Fame for a variety of reasons. The institution even went as far as claiming that the stick may just be the world’s oldest toy.
The toy has become quite the universal play toy as animals have been known to play with them too. When you play fetch with your dogs, the most basic thing you can use is a stick. Monkeys and apes have been known to play with sticks too. Children have loved playing with sticks for a long time as both literature and anthropological observations affirm that these simple and ancient sources of entertainment have been part of humanity’s long history.
It has been frequently noticed that toys and trinkets made out of sticks have been found in children’s gravesites all over the world. Scholars have also observed that the most common artifact that children around the globe use during playtime is a stick.
Sticks are also prominent for open-ended play and are versatile toys for boundless make-believe fun. Kids have been known to use them as swords, magic wands, majorette batons, finishing poles, and for the modern pop culture fans, lightsabers.
This toy also comes with its share of child development benefits; sticks nurture creativity and develop imaginations. Playing with sticks can be a way to get children off TV and phone screens and have them explore the outdoors.
Sticks are also used by children to build all sorts of things and can facilitate basic engineering activities. Sticks are foundational to the development of creative play because of their flexibility and the freedom it gives children to explore and discover things for themselves.
The Strong National Museum of Play also points out that access to sticks is also part of its charm. As they are natural and absolutely free, children can have as many sticks as they need for playing or building things. It’s also because of this natural accessibility that the use of sticks isn’t just for children or animals. Adults who make a living out of art, architecture, decoration, and crafting also make use of sticks all the time as they create sculptures, furniture, and building designs. All sorts of adventures can also be had with sticks too, as it can be a handy tool for writing on beach sands or creating campfires as you enjoy the outdoors, and even toast marshmallows for treats.
In conclusion, given that sticks have existed ever since trees came to be, humanity has been able to enjoy this ancient toy for just as long, making it the oldest toy in existence. It’s been considered that sticks may not only be the oldest toys but also the best, according to the Strong National Museum of Play.
As humanity and technology evolved through the times, toys have as well. While most ancient and early toys are based on sticks, many other toys are considered to be incredibly old as well.
Dolls have had a long history as toys, too. In 2004, an archaeological dig in village ruins on the Italian island of Pantelleria unearthed a 4000-year-old stone doll head. As this doll head wasn’t found on some form of a ceremonial site, archaeologists have much reason to believe that, unlike most ancient dolls or human figures discovered in Egyptian sites, this toy is for play.
Many cultures all over the world have also produced ancient dolls out of sticks. Stick dolls have been carved by people from both western and eastern civilizations, too.
Far from just a simple tool, wheels have also given early people their fair share of fun. Mosaics at the Great Palace of Constantinople have visually shown people playing with wheels on sticks but the use of wheels as toys dates farther than the 6th century.
Digs around the location of the old ancient Indus civilizations in 1934 have found several wheel toys, some attached to sticks and some that aren’t, too. Considering how old the Indus civilization is, it can easily be inferred or hypothesized that wheels are definitely one of the oldest toys to ever exist.
One of the oldest toys to ever be discovered was King Tut’s wooden toy top. This particular spinning toy top is dated to be about 6000 years old and was found in the Egyptian king’s actual tomb.
The spinning top is simple to play with and still exists to this very day, although most materials have been swapped in with different materials. The principle behind its simple play mechanics, however, is retained. Spinning tops come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but they’re all played in similar ways; you have to use your hands or some material to put the spin on the toy and if the spin is strong enough, the top will stay upright until it loses momentum. Some cultures just use a handle to put a spin on tops but some make use of other things like ropes.