This 4,000-year-old 'fidget spinner' is not what it seems

The internet got very excited about an ancient fidget spinner, but a museum curator has a different story to tell.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

What if I told you the whole nutty fidget spinner phenomenon is actually very, very old news? As in 4,000-year-old news? 

In a Reddit post titled "My daughter found the world's oldest fidget spinner in a museum in Chicago," user calvinquisition shared an image of a clay toy from the Shu-Sin Temple area in Iraq. The toy features three arms, just like a modern fidget spinner. There's also a central depression that looks like it could be the point at which it spins.

The label in the museum case reads, "Spinning Toy with Animal Heads." It's in the Mesopotamian gallery at the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago, which dates it to 2,000 to 1,800 BC.

Unsurprisingly, the post quickly gathered hundreds of comments. 

All is not what it seems, however.

Jean M. Evans, the chief curator at the Oriental Institute Museum, agrees the object looks like a fidget spinner but thinks the item has been misidentified. 

Evans thinks it isn't a toy, but rather the head of a mace, a type of weapon. The misidentification persists from the time of the object's discovery, she says. 

"When the 'spinning toy' was first published in 1932, the excavators recognized that the object was unique and they speculated it might be rotated and used in 'astrological divination' suggesting the animals represented were a bull, ibex, and lion," Evans said in a statement. 


This mace head looks a lot like the "spinning toy" in the Oriental Institute Museum.

Oriental Institute Museum

The museum is planning to update the label. Evans provided a photo of another mace head that looks very similar to the "spinning toy." She says the discovery location near a temple provides further evidence since maces were "considered weapons of the gods in the second millennium BC."

Some fidget-spinner fans, as well as detractors, may be disappointed by the revelation. Wired editor Arielle Pardes posted the image on Twitter and received over 26,000 retweets because we're all still totally obsessed with fidget spinners even though we tell ourselves we're over them.

At least we can still congratulate ourselves on fidget spinners being a triumph (or a scourge) of modern culture. 

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The coolest fidget spinners making the rounds

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