Ceramics Reveal Prehistoric Pennsylvania Pastimes
Small ceramic disks have been found on Contact Period sites and Native American Woodland in every part of Pennsylvania. These objects were created by grinding smashed pieces of 17th Century Colonial or Native pottery into circular shapes. In certain cases, one or two holes got drilled through the centers of the disks, and it is possible that these disks were used by children as toys, and as game pieces by the adults of different groups of Natives and Colonists throughout the Northeast areas.
Traditional Toys for Children
Buzzers or Whizzers are a kind of traditional toy that boy European American and Native American children played with. Prehistoric whizzers were created from bone, pottery, or wood, and metal whizzers were more common to the colonial context.
These consisted of a central disc, the whizzer, which was perforated with two holes. A string of yarn, twine, or sinew was then threaded through the holes, and then got tied off, creating a ring. By twisting this string and then pulling its ends out, the whizzer would spin one way and then twist back the other. This would in turn create a buzzing or whirring sound, if done correctly, and it’s this that gave the toy its name.
Wa’lade hamma’gan, or Hubbub
The solid ceramic disks that have been found in Pennsylvania are very like the game pieces that are associated with Wa’lade hamma’gan, a bowl and dice game that was enjoyed by the Penobscot Indians from southern New England during the 1600s.
Its nickname, Hubbub, rose thanks to the chants of onlookers who bet goods on each of the games’ outcomes. We do much the same these days, as the football chants heard round the world prove. Punters who enjoy the live AFL betting facilities available online these days will know all the words of the songs sung to support their teams, and might be interested to know that the origins of this type of engagement extends all the way back to the 1600s, with the words Hub and Dub being repeated in Wa’lade hamma’gan games!
How Wa’lade hamma’gan Was Played
A Hubbub game would see players alternating turns in which they threw six small pottery disks, stone-fruit pits, or small rocks of different coloured sides into a bowl. When five or six of these landed on the same coloured side during a turn, the player responsible for this would be awarded with stick markers. Players would then accumulate markers of rising value through the game and would also attempt to gain those belonging to their opponents.
While it cannot be known for sure that this the precise game played with the ceramic disks found in Pennsylvania, games of chance, and gambling and betting activities have been documented cross-culturally for a range of Native American and Colonial groups, so it is a definite possibility. And it is yet another way that ancient ceramics have been able to reveal a little more about the past, and what kind of entertainment people living hundreds of years ago enjoyed!