You can imagine this is truly an ancient instrument, although comparatively little has been written on them, given their long and rich history. The New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians in a brief listing on the bones states, " The bones were played in China before 3000 BC, in Egypt around that date, and in ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and medieval Europe."
Numerous examples of Egyptian bones made of ivory and wood have survived, they were used in religious rites. We know they have spread around the world and exist in some form in almost every culture. Shakespeare wrote of the bones in "Midsummer's Nights Dream", as did Lewis Carroll in the "Hunting of the Snark". They were a featured instrument in the American Minstrel Show during the middle 1800's, and have been played in numerous forms of traditional music in North America including blues, blue grass, French Canadian music, and Cape Breton music from Nova Scotia.