Monday, December 28, 2009

Beothuk Gaming Pieces

I'm off playing boardgames with my friends today, so here's a look at some games I made in 2005 for the Province. The game pieces are based on originals that were recovered over 100 years ago. Howley, in his book The Beothuks or Red Indians, illustrates two groups of these game pieces from two different sites and in each group he shows 3 diamond shaped pieces, 3 rectangular pieces and one irregular piece (here and here), implying that they were found and used in sets of seven. The bone tiles are decorated on one side, blank on the other and covered in red ochre.

The string of beads are pipestem fragments, with two large bone discs tied on either end. The orginal artifacts these are based on were found alongside Beothuk gaming pieces in a burial on Swan Island. Ingeborg Marshall suggests in a History and Ethnography of the Beothuk that the beads were used as counters with the bone dice.

Similar dice games were played throughout northeastern North America and they often involved tossing the bone tiles or dice in a bowl and using some kind of counters to track the player's scores or wagers, based on whether they landed marked side up or down. I based the design of the bowl on an unfinished birch bowl that was found with Mary March when she was captured. The original is on display in The Rooms.

We don't know what the rules were - but if you found these under the tree on Christmas day and the dog ate the instructions - what sort of game would you make up?

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions: Elfshot Reproductions of Beothuk gaming pieces, bowls, and pipestem beaded strings, all covered in red ochre.


  1. Does anyone know where I can find the vid Stealing Mary? It's a documentary. I've looked and looked but I just can't find it. I need it to buy or rent. If anyone knows, please reply! I need it by March 18th. I need it badly!

  2. I'm not sure where you're located but have you tried contacting the production company directly? You'll find phone numbers and email addresses at this link:

    If you're in St. John's, I believe it's available through Memorial University's QEII Library.

    I also saw it listed on two US seller's sites linked through

    Good luck!

  3. do u know what they did for fun and entertainment? Please

    1. The Beothuk? Sing, Dance, Tell Stories, play games like this one. Kids probably played at being grown-ups, the way kids do in most places and times.


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