Archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Kültepe Kaniş-Karum have discovered a 4,000 year old ceramic rattle, which they believe to be the oldest children’s toy yet discovered.
The ceramic rattle, which contains small pebbles, was unearthed by archaeologists from Ankara University who have been excavating the ancient city of Kültepe, which now lies in the central Anatolian province of Keyseri.
Kültepe, home to 70,000 people
Four thousand years ago, Kültepe was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Kanesh, and was the centre of a complex network of Assyrian trading colonies that extended all the way from Egypt and the Caucasus, to Central Asia and the Indus Valley.
The site, comprising an upper mound and a lower town which together have a diameter of 2.5km, has been excavated since 1948. Professor Fikri Kulakoğlu, who now 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.
Children in the capital
Of course, not everyone who lived there was an adult. Among them there would have been young people, children and babies. And yet discoveries that show what it was like to grow up in the second millennium BC can be comparatively rare, which is what makes finds like this so special.
“We often find things much like what we commonly find in houses today… Pots and pans, glasses, oven, seats etc. We have seen all of these things in the excavations for nearly 70 years” said Professor Kulakoğlu.
“Naturally, we should also find objects that we associate with babies… one of them is this ceramic rattle with pebbles inside, which we estimate to date back to 4,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest in the world. It makes a sound when it is shaken just like baby rattles we all know today.”
Archaeology of childhood
But this rattle isn’t the only discovery vying for the title of world’s oldest toy. Researchers often categorise certain types of items as toys, including objects that are miniaturised, crudely manufactured or in some other way resemble the toys of today, like dolls.
In fact, in 2004 archaeologists 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.
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, including burial practices, literary sources, artistic representations, as well as material culture.
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