Activity Histories

Bean Bag Toss

Bean Bag Toss, also known as Cornhole, is a game where players take turns throwing small bean bags at a platform or board that is raised at one end with a hole in it. Each bag that falls into the hole scores three points, while bags that land on the board score one point. Play continues until a team or player reaches or exceeds an agreed target score.

The bags can be filled with dried beans, corn kernels or grain and the bags themselves are made of a variety of materials. This is because each material moves or slides across the board in a different way. For example, silk will slide across the board while corduroy will grip more and not slide. Players can then use different throwing techniques depending on the fabric to try and strategise their gameplay. There are also various versions of the target board some with more than one hole and even some with different shaped holes.

The origins of Bean Bag Toss are contentious. There is evidence for a variety of origin stories. One popular version is that the activity was created by a 14th Century German Cabinetmaker who, after seeing boys throwing rocks into holes in the ground and fearing for their safety, created a wooden board with a hole in it and gave the boys small burlap bags filled with cereal grains in place of the rocks. German immigrants then took the activity to the United States where it continues to be a popular pastime today. Another origin story points to the Iroquois peoples who would throw animal bladders filled with dried corn.

Keentan (Kangaroo Ball)

Keentan is an Indigenous Australian ‘keep away’ type of ball game. Played with two teams, one team starts with a ball and must pass it around to their teammates while the opposing team tries to intercept the ball while it is in the air. The ball can only be held for three seconds and must be thrown while the player is in the air, hence the alternative name of Kangaroo Ball. The team who makes the most passes of the ball is the winner. This goal can be a set number of passes in total or the most passes in a specified time.

Keentan was developed in North-West Central Queensland and, unlike some other Indigenous games it can be played by both genders. Traditionally the ball was made of possum, wallaby or kangaroo hide. Its creation is credited to the Kalkadoon people and gains its name from the Wik-Mungkan word for ‘play’ in the absence of an identifiable name for the activity in the Kalkadoon language.

Ship to Shore

The game of Ship to Shore has numerous names and variations that have developed over time with each variant claiming to be the original. However, most of the evidence indicates that this game was invented during the period of Colonial Expansionism. Children on board sailing vessels were expected to keep out of the way and with most of their toys left behind, as space for non-essential cargo was limited, they came up with ways to entertain themselves. Through observation and mimicry, the game of Ship to Shore emerged. This game was played mainly by the children of free settlers as the children of convicts did not have much time available for playing games.

Designed to make use of the bare minimum of equipment, the playing field is split into areas by lines of rope. A Captain is nominated, and the rest of the players are the Crew. The Captain calls out orders and the Crew must carry these orders out, kind of like Simon Says or Mother May I. On orders such as “to the Shore” or “to the Ship” the players must run to the area designated as ‘Shore’ or ‘Ship’, last one there is out. Other orders such as “Man Overboard” or “Shark” have specific actions that must be performed but if performed incorrectly that player is out.

Quoits/Horseshoe Toss

Quoits is a game where players attempt to get a rope ring over a peg by throwing it from a certain distance. The National Quoits Association (UK) maintains that the quoit is synonymous with the discus and therefore was an element of the ancient Olympics. From the Greeks it spread to the Romans and from the Romans to numerous other nations. It is commonly accepted though, that the game of Quoits was brought to England during the Roman occupation. The game then continued into medieval England where peasants would throw rings made from horseshoes that had been heated and bent into rough circles. This activity was played by both the British and Continental armies to pass the time during the American War of Independence, but the first fully documented record of Quoits however does not occur until the 19th Century.

Horseshoe Toss is believed to be a Medieval variant of Quoits. Proper circular Quoits made specifically for the game were not available to the lower classes, so it is thought that they made use of old horseshoes instead. The dedicated game of Horseshoe Toss was taken to the Americas during the 18th and 19th Centuries where it quickly became more popular than the original Quoits. In 1926 the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America was founded to serve as a governing body and, to this date, they still regulate Horseshoe Toss games in the United States, hosting both national and world championships.


Knattleikr originates from Viking settlements in Iceland beginning around the 9th Century CE. Descriptions and stories of the game itself appear in five of the written Icelandic Sagas. What we learn from the Sagas is that the game is that the game was played by two teams lead by Team Captains. Using either a stick, a wooden paddle or bare hands the players had to hit a leather ball through or at a goal post. There is some evidence which suggests the game was sometimes played on frozen lakes with tar and sand being used for grip. Games could go from morning to night and would draw large crowds of spectators that would cheer on their favourites. Knattleikr has seen a resurgence over the past few decades with American Universities such as Yale fielding teams.

Sumo Wrestling

Sumo Wrestling involves two competitors in a ring each attempting to manoeuvre the other out of the circle. Traditional Sumo Wrestling has a long history and its origins are hotly debated. Some believe that the sport dates back to the Heian Period of Japan from 794 to 1192 or further while others suggest that the sport was only established during the mid to late Edo Period between 1603 to 1868. It is thought that before becoming a sport the Art of Sumo Wrestling was performed at various Shinto religious ceremonies and many of the practices of Sumo are closely tied to Shintoism. These religious elements have helped cement Sumo Wrestling not only as one of Japan’s premier national sports but also as an event of high cultural significance.

Celtic Wrestling

Celtic Wrestling has developed over a 2500-year history. Also known as Collar-and-Elbow it can be traced back to the Irish Tailteann Games and believed to have originally been created by the mythological Irish God Lugh Lámhfhada as a mourning ceremony in honour of his foster mother. The Tailteann Games themselves were founded in approximately 632 BCE and continued to be celebrated until the Norman invasion of 1169-1171 CE. This wrestling has changed over time, traditionally being performed in a manner more akin to modern wrestling requiring a person to be pinned. This was the method in use when the activity was revived in the 17th Century when it first became an organised sport. In the 18th Century the popularity amongst Irish immigrants saw the sport’s expansion into the United States with the final development occurring during the 19th Century where pinning one’s opponent was no longer deemed necessary. Instead of brute strength the most recent iteration relies more on leverage and balance with the two competitors standing face to face, placing their right feet forward so that the outsides of their feet are touching, grasping each other’s right hand and attempting to unbalance their opponent enough to make them move either of their feet.

Cuju (Chinese Football)

Cuju (pronounced Sue-Chi) is the oldest form of football that has definitive records. The word Cuju literally means ‘to kick a ball with feet’. Similar to soccer, it involves kicking a ball (without using hands) through a goal in the centre of the field rather than one at each end.

One of the earliest records dates to the Warring States period of China (475-221 BCE). The next mention is in the ‘Shiji’, a literary work of the grand historian Sima Qian. Written in the Han Dynasty the section relates to military training exercises in the state of Qi. The sport spread from the military to the upper classes during the Han Dynasty and was improved during the Tang Dynasty. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) the sport spread to all social classes and became widely popular, remaining so until the 16th Century were the game faded almost into obscurity. Thankfully though, it is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity around the world.


The Hoplitodromos is an encumbered foot race that was performed in three of the four major Hellenic games: the ancient Olympic Games, Pythian Games and Nemean Games. The runners were required to don elements of the Hoplite, typically a helmet, shield and greaves (metal shin protection). The runners would typically then race over two lengths of a ‘stadion’ or ‘stade’, which was an ancient running track approximately 370-384mt in length. This was not a standardised length though as, at certain venues, the number of required lengths could be as high as 15. The race was added at the 65th Olympic games in 520 BCE. By the mid-5th Century BCE the greaves were abandoned due to their impediment to leg movement. The Hoplitodromos was the last of the four great foot races to be added to the games. The race remained popular and continued to be performed in the Olympic games until their abolition by Emperor Theodosius I in 394 CE. As the other Hellenic games died away in the following decades so too did the Hoplitodromos.

The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet represents an activity derived from military corporal punishment originating in the Ancient World. In Greece the activity was known as the Xylokopia, in Rome the Fustuarium. The guilty person would be required to run between two lines of their fellow soldiers who would either pelt them with stones or beat them with cudgels. The punishment was given for crimes such as desertion, falling asleep on sentry duty, theft or giving false witness. There is some debate as to whether the Roman practice of Fustuarium has its origins as a religious purification ritual and depending on the period the punishment was not always a death sentence. This practice continued to be used as a military punishment well into the 17th Century, becoming known as ‘Running the Gauntlet’ and was used by the Prussian Cavalry, French Army and the Royal British Navy. The Royal Navy abolished the practice as a punishment in 1806 but a Swedish a version was also used as a civilian punishment for particular crimes until the 18th Century and it continued in Russia, Austria and several other European nations into the late 19th Century. Another version of The Gauntlet also developed in a number of Native American tribes, independently of the European ones. The evidence for which is provided by a Jesuit who recorded his own encounter with the activity at the hands of the Iroquois peoples in a letter to a friend.


Tug-o-War is perhaps mankind’s oldest competitive sport where two teams each take one end of a rope and attempt to pull the other team over a set point. Records indicate that a contest involving the pulling of a rope or chain of people linked by arms or hands has existed since the Ancient Egyptians. Many records indicate that it was a part of religious festivals, with variations developing in many differing cultures independently of each other, ranging from the Mediterranean to Borneo, Korea and Japan. Tug-o-War existed as a competitive sport in the Olympics of the Ancient Greeks from 500 BCE and references to the activity appear in Germanic folklore of the 11th Century CE. In a modern context the activity has continued and maintains a consistent level of popularity. Tug-o-War was one of the sports that athletes competed in with the establishment of the modern Olympic Games, in the early 1900’s, however it didn’t survive the cull in the 1920’s with the downsizing of the events list.

Village Football

Village Football is another sport known by numerous different names such as Uppies and Doonies or Shrovetide Football and each with its own version of the rules. Believed to be the descendant of the Roman game of Harpastum, Village Football became widespread throughout England and Wales during the 12th Century CE.  Traditionally the game was played with an inflated pigs’ bladder, there was no limit on the number of players and the rules were simple…get the ball to a marker at opposite ends of the town by any means necessary, as long as it did not lead to murder or manslaughter it was acceptable. The game continued in popularity until the Highway Act of 1835 which banned the playing of football on public highways. Due to the space needed to accommodate the sheer number of players without access to public highways the game sharply declined.

Woolly Woolly Wolf

Woolly Woolly Wolf is one of numerous school yard tag games that children have played throughout history. Tag games reached the height of their popularity in the mid-19th Century even being featured in some cartoons of the period. A variant of Woolly Woolly Wolf saw its early origins in the late Colonial Period before reaching the peak of its popularity as a school yard game in the early 20th Century. Like many games of the period Woolly Woolly Wolf is a simple game requiring little in the way of rules and equipment. Similar to Red Rover or Mother May I, one player starts as the Wolf who, by calling out various words or phrases, attempts to catch other players, the Sheep, before they can get to the allotted safe space of the Pen or Stable.