Gaming and divination pieces, markers of ownership, or all three? Zooarchaeology and the interpretation of knuckle bones found in tombs of the Iberian necropolis of El Poblado (Coimbra del Barranco Ancho, Murcia, Spain)

Paula THOMAS, José Miguel GARCÍA CANO, Silvia ALBIZURI & Jordi NADAL

en Anthropozoologica 57 (6) - Pages 157-166

Published on 06 May 2022

Natural and worked astragali or knuckle bones dating from the Neolithic are common finds in Eurasia and are usually thought to be related with gaming, divination or protection. Knuckle bones/astragali (N = 549) and imitations (N = 11) were found in 27 of the 158 tombs that have been studied in the El Poblado necropolis, Murcia, Southeast Spain (fourth-second century BC), forming one of the most important knuckle bone collections in an Iberian cultural site. The greatest concentrations were found in tombs of important and high-class individuals. Most of the knuckle bones/astragali are from sheep (Ovis aries Linnaeus, 1758) and had been burnt with the corpse of the deceased. The fact that knuckle bones occur as part of the grave goods of both sexes suggests the egalitarian use of these items. While certain modifications point to their probable use, unworked astragali could have symbolised ownership of flocks or been used for exchange. The significance of this item and the data collected are discussed within the social and cultural context of pre-Roman societies in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula.


Astragalus, funerary offering, Iberian culture.

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