When you take a look at all the wonderfully fun things being sold in New Zealand toy stores toys today, one thing is clear. Our kids have never had it so good. The toys they play with are triumphs of creativity, innovation and originality. They’re colourful, bright, engaging and, in many cases, very educational. Learning through play has never been such fun.
Modern toys are certainly a step up on what we used to play with when we were children but, thankfully, traditional toys from our era, and earlier, are still being sold, and they’re still popular. These days though, they’re part of a toy collection that is heavily influenced by contemporary design, characters, and society. But what about the toys that existed before today’s playthings…and for that matter, yesteryear’s playthings when we were young. What did historic toys look like? In fact, what did the very first toy look like?
Historians, anthropologists and even museum curators have given those questions much thought. They’ve pondered the history of toys and filtered it all down to one thing: the world’s oldest toy. Many of them agree that that artefact was: the stick.
It’s true. The stick is widely considered to be the world’s oldest toy, and it makes sense. During the Stone Age, natural objects were used as tools and it requires no great stretch of the imagination that they were also used as toys. We were born to play, even 2.6 million years ago! Sticks could have been used as play weapons in make-believe battles or imaginary hunting expeditions. They could have been used to doodle childish designs in the dust. Sticks could even have been used to build the very earliest editions of playhouses. Children are resourceful when it comes to amusing themselves, and that was no different in the Stone Age. It’s easy to see why the humble stick is thought of as the world’s oldest toy.
Toys and games go back a long, long way. In 2004, archaeologists unearthed a 4,000-year-old stone doll head in the ruins of an Italian village. Edward Bleiberg, the curator of Egyptian Art at the Brooklyn Museum, says archaeologists have found a lot of wooden dolls in Egyptian tombs that date back just as far. Having said that, it’s unclear how many of those dolls were made for playful purposes as some featured reproductive symbols. And while we’re in ancient Egypt, a board game that resembles backgammon has been noticed in wall drawings dating from around 2686 B.C. But, as toys and games go, they’re nowhere as near as old as the stick.
In all honesty, it’s hard to imagine a child unwrapping a gift on their birthday and being thrilled to bits when they discover it’s a stick. Today’s toys represent much more fun for younger minds. But the humble stick is a reminder that the imagination can turn pretty much any object into a symbol of fun, and that creative ability is something the human race should be proud of.