To celebrate summer, this month we’re going to have fun learning about and making spinning tops.
Spinning tops developed independently in cultures all over the world. They are among the oldest recognizable toys found by archaeologists and have been found on every continent except Antarctica. Tops found in China date from around 1250 BCE. A carved wooden top dated to about 2000 BCE was found in King Tut’s tomb. (Picture of King Tut’s top) A clay top discovered at an archaeological site in Iraq dates to 3,500 BCE. That’s almost six thousand years ago!
The materials used to make tops has varied depending on place and time. Very primitive tops made from seeds, nuts, or fruits with a stick through them have been found among indigenous peoples throughout the world. Other materials used to make tops are wood, bone, fired clay, ivory, shells, and metals like iron, brass, silver, or gold. Most tops are solid, but some were hollow with a hole in the side that produced a whistling sound.
Originally tops were used to amuse children; however, people soon found other uses for this ancient toy. They were used as gifts to honor the gods and were placed in burials for the dead to take into the afterlife. In some cultures, tops were spiritual objects used for divination and prophecy. Organized sports and games developed using tops. And, they were used for gambling.
Types of Tops
There are different types of spinning tops. Depending on how tops are spun they are called finger twirlers, strings and whips, augers, or magnetic fields, but they all defy gravity. Tops are designed to spin, balancing on the tip. They stay in motion and upright until they lose energy and tip over. In the Museum’s collections we have two examples of string and whip tops:
Gasing, Sarawak, Malaysia. This hand-carved wooden top is made of a dense hardwood. It is used in a traditional game where the top is spun, and the winner is the person whose gasing spins the longest. The woven rope is unique because it is thicker on the end that is held in the hand and tapers down to the end that is wrapped around the gasing. The gasing is thrown and the rope is jerked back causing the top to spin. In another game, one player tries to knock the other player’s gasing out of a ring that is drawn on the ground.
Koma, Japan. Koma are traditional wooden tops that are wrapped with string and spun by throwing and pulling the string. They are often played with during the New Year holidays. Usually, koma are played with in teams or in one-to-one games, with the winner being the team or player who spins their koma longer than the other team or player.
Let’s make a spinning top!
We found four different spinning tops you can make. They are easy and made with things found around the house. So, check it out, make some, and have fun with your spinning tops!
1) Craftulate: To make this super easy top, you’ll need heavy paper (cardstock, cereal box, cardboard) scissors, something to make a circle, pencil, markers, and a toothpick. Try different kinds of paper to see which spins the best. You may also need to adjust where you place the circle to get the right balance.
2) From Babble Dabble Do: This is the most difficult top to make and may require adult help. You’ll need cardstock, top template (link for template), scissors, markers, glue stick or gun, skewer, and a bead. Suggestion decorate your top before you glue it together. Also, we found glue gun worked better than glue stick. Click here for instructions.
3) From Babble Dabble Do: To make this top you’ll need a metal washer, marble or bead, colorful tape, scissors, and glue gun. You may need an adult’s help. An option is to add a skewer as a handle. Click here for instructions.
4) From Happyfinger Studio: You’ll need a CD, marble, markers or colored tape, glue gun, and a bottle top to make this fun spinning top. You made need an adult’s help.