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Rolling the bones

in various forms have been around as long as mankind. They are the oldest known form of gambling. Dice game artifacts have been found in the tombs of ancient Egypt and Sumeria. The high gate of the temple of Medinet features a portrayal of King Rameses III (c. 1182-1151 B.C.) playing a dice game with ladies of his harem.

Dice were also very popular in later Greek and Roman times. In the Bible, Roman soldiers standing guard during Christ’s crucifixion tossed dice to see who could keep His garments.

In ancient times, most dice were made of bones. This is the origination of the phrase, “rolling the bones.” Other materials used to make dice included marble, onyx, agate, bronze, alabaster and porcelain. Primitive tribes around the world, from the American Indian to Africans and South Sea Islanders, have gambled with dice made of whatever materials were available, including seashells, seeds, deer horn, pottery and animal teeth.

Square dice like those used today, with the opposite faces adding up to seven, have been found in the British prehistoric earthworks of Maiden Castle. They’ve also been found near Rome, dating back to around 900 B.C.

Just about as long as dice have existed, so have people who have tried to cheat using “loaded dice.” A loaded die is one that has been intentionally altered so that it lands most often with a certain side facing up. Dice can be loaded in many ways, especially if they aren’t transparent. Some simply have weights added to one side. Some, called “tappers,” have a cavity in the center of the tube that holds a drop of mercury. When the die is tapped on the table, the mercury moves through a little tube to another cavity at the side of the cube.

You may have seen gamblers, especially in movies, blowing on dice or rubbing them together in their hands before throwing them. The gambler might be using another type of loaded die, which has inside a small weight and some wax or other semi solid substance whose melting point is a little lower than the temperature of the human body. When the gambler rubs or blows on the die, it causes the wax to melt and the weight to move, making the die land with the selected side facing up.
Today, it’s very unlikely that you’ll find loaded dice in a casino because all reputable casinos use transparent acrylic dice, which are difficult to alter.
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