hist-games: Freq. Asked Questions -- Part II

David KUIJT kuijt at umiacs.umd.edu
Tue Oct 21 09:18:13 PDT 1997

> I think both of us are to some degree firing from the hip ...


> It is of course
> much harder to prove the non-existence of a game than its existence; if
> you have some specific references to nine-pins with a ball before 1500,

No, I don't have any 9-pin/ball references pre-1500 off-hand.  I was
responding to the (perceived by me) implication that nine-pin bowling was
derived from Kailes, when I think that they are likely parallel games
(neither derived from the other).  Then I went on to discuss pre-1500
bowling evidence, which was in answer to my perception of the original
question (not your response).

>> Games involving throwing or rolling balls towards various numbers of
>> target pins go back at least to the 12th century, and probably earlier. 
>> Some of these games were played with weighted or non-spherical balls
>> that rolled in an arc rather than a straight line.  Other related games
>> involved throwing sticks at pins rather than rolling a ball at them.
>> Non-pin bowling, where the aim is to come closest to a smaller target
>> ball, is also very old.

> As indicated in my previous posting, I think there are some dubious
> points with such a description. There are two basic classes of games in
> question:

I like your classification below (proximity/knockdown).

This discussion also points out a problem area -- I recall at least one
example (Strutt?  I'll try to check) where two players were rolling bowls
(balls) at a single pin.  Now with multiple pins we can be reasonably
certain that the objective was to knock them over.  With multiple balls
aiming at a single smaller ball it is fairly clear that the objective is
proximity.  But when two players have one ball each and are rolling at a
single pin it is harder to say -- the objective could equally well have
been proximity, rather than knockdown.  Or it might even have been both: a
reasonable game could be constructed where the winner is the one closest
to the pin, and knocking down the pin constitutes an instant win. 

> a) Games in which the goal is proximity to the target (eg. Bowls,
> Quoits).
> [....]  By the late 16c at least, Bowls often, perhaps normally,
> involved asymmetrically weighted balls.

... in England.  In the Mediterranean area modern bocce (casting balls
toward a smaller target ball) uses symmetrically weighted balls, and seems
to have used such since time immemorial.  (In other words, I think that it
goes way, way back, but I haven't got any memories of sources to support
that statement). 

> b) Games in which the goal is to knock down the target(s),
> [....] In Ninepins, Tenpins,
> Skittles, etc., the players threw or rolled a ball; I know of no
> evidence for this version prior to 1500--this doesn't mean that there is
> none, but does suggest that the burden of proof rests with those who
> would argue for earlier origins.

Fair enough.  I'm pretty sure (virtually-certain-but-I've-been-wrong
before) that I've got illustrations of games played using a ball to knock
down a target from before 1500.  I'll try to look at my pictures and give
you some concrete examples.

> I am also uncertain whether biased balls were used for this game,
> although I haven't particularly examined this aspect of its history.

I remember writing about at least one example of a knock-down-pins game
played with biased balls.  It was some time ago, so I don't remember
anything more -- I'll look it up and see if I can find the reference.
David Kuijt / Dafydd ap Gwystl

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