This week: Child’s play!

Painting of a family game of checkers (“jeu des dames”), painted c. 1803. IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons.

It was, according to the ship’s captain, a ‘once in a 100-year phenomenon’.

On 13 February 1997, the 944ft-long cargo vessel Tokio Express was en route from Rotterdam to New York when it was hit by a freak wave about 20 miles off Land’s End, causing it to tilt so violently that 62 lorry-sized containers were thrown into the ocean.

Though the loss was not widely reported at the time, its effects are still being felt 25 years later – for among the goods so rudely pitched overboard were nearly five million brightly coloured Lego pieces (many of them, ironically enough, nautically themed, including miniature cutlasses, flippers, spear guns, and octopuses), which even today are still being washed up regularly along the coastlines of Devon, Cornwall, and elsewhere.

As we learn this week on The Past, a new book, Adrift: the curious tale of the Lego lost at sea by Tracey Williams, tells the remarkable story of the 4,756,940 missing plastic pieces, and of the extraordinary exercise in citizen-science which they inspired.

In the new issue of Current Archaeology, Joe Flatman explains how a project to track and document the lost Lego’s spread attracted tens of thousands of online followers, and led archaeologists into an unlikely collaboration with oceanographers, journalists, environmental campaigners, and likeminded beachcombers around the world.

Elsewhere this week on The Past, we have also been searching the archives for more about the history and archaeology of childhood: we went looking for war toys at the V&A; we visited an exhibition in Florence about the sons and daughters of the Roman empire; and we even looked into the fate of young people during the turbulence of the Reformation.

And finally, if all that simply whets your appetite, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is themed around childhood toys and games. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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