Toys and Forms of Entertainment of the Past

Helen Li
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History has
permanent cultural exhibits that display ancient
artifacts from all over the world.
The toys in each exhibit are definitely worth noting
because these toys reveal cultural differences
among societies from the past and present.
Toys from Africa
These clay figurines are created by Egyptians and
tribes living the grasslands of Africa. Most toys from
these areas are of animals such as horses and oxen.
Toys from Africa
In Africa, young adults danced and sang during
major events and these instruments are widely
used as forms of self expression and
communication. These instruments are usually made
of metal and bamboo. The instruments shown on
the left are classified as idiophones, and the
instrument shown below are string and tube zithers.
Toys from Northern Asia
A huge quantity of wooden
sculptures are found in Siberia.
Almost all o f the sculptures are of
sea animals and grassland animals
such as horses and bulls.
The wooden horse on the bottom
were made by Yakuts, a large tribal
group that depend on cattle and
horses unlike other tribes that
depend on reindeers. The Yakut
tribe is a patrilineal society where
horse owners are recognized as
Toys from Northern Asia
These two dolls from Northern
Siberia are made of animal fur and
wool. Siberia consists of tundra and
rivers that stretch to the South. The
doll’s clothing reveals the frigid
conditions and climates of Siberia.
The heads of these Siberian dolls
are made of duck bills.
Toys from North America
This is a game played using 102 sticks
and a pointer. The game is played by
separating sticks with the pointer.
One of the most popular
sports developed by the
Iroquois is lacrosse which is
a sport that is still played
now. This game involves
rackets and nets shown on
the right.
Toys from North America
The Iroquois invented games such as the moccasin game where
opposing teams had to guess under which moccasin lays the stone. They
also played the Snow Snake game where players competed to see
which player can throw the snow snakes the farthest. These games
reveal the competitiveness of the Iroquois tribe.
Toys from North America
These dolls on the left are among the
few dolls in this exhibit. The dolls in the
bottom left corner are made of corn
husk, which is a major crop produced
by the Iroquois. However, it is worth
noting that although the body structure
and facial features are not too
detailed, its clothing is definitely
sophisticated and realistic. The dolls’
clothing is almost exactly the same as
what the tribal members wore.
Past to Present
The figurines in the museum are realistic and reflects the different
societies’ culture and ways of living.
Compared with modern toys, toys of the 21st century are more
embellished and fantastic with fictitious characters and imaginary
These differences are mainly due to advances in technology and
cultural diffusion and collaboration. In the past, toys are a form
of luxury and reflects their ways of living, but in current society,
toys are more accessible and becomes a “necessity” rather than
simply a form of entertainment .