A chunkey stone is shown on a wall
Deeper Dive Series

An Ancient Version of Football?

A chunkey stone is shown on a wall

Fall in America is a time for football, baseball, cornhole and other games. Thousands of years ago, people in America were even more passionate about the game of chunkey, also called tchung-kee. The game is played not with a leather-bound ball but a polished, disk-shaped stone.

Chunkey seems to have developed near the Cahokia Mounds in Illinois around A.D. 600 and then spread through the Mississippi River Valley and across North America. Like today, the games solidified social ties and relieved stress, but it also taught skills needed for war and hunting.

While the rules of chunkey can vary slightly, the game generally begins with a person throwing or rolling the stone disk down a playing field roughly the size of a modern football field. Players then threw their chunkey sticks, which are like spears, at the stone- aiming for where they thought the stone would stop. Whichever player got closest to the stone once it stopped, without hitting it, won the point. More rounds would be played in the same fashion until someone reached a designated total and won the game. Like today, spectators were known to gamble great sums on the outcome of the games. Games could also decide the outcome of a dispute or avoid armed conflict.

Today, chunkey continues to be a popular game among some Native American groups. Perhaps this holiday your family and friends can create your own version of this ancient, American game with wooden dowels and disks for your chunky spears and stones. See several chunkey stones in the museum’s collection on the 4th floor.