In a tomb near Siirt in southeast Turkey, archaeologists believe they may have just found the oldest gaming tokens ever after dating them back to a whopping 5000 years young.
The extensive set is made up of 49 small, carved stones that wouldn’t be entirely dissimilar to chess pieces if not for the fact that, in addition to black and white, the tokens also come painted in red, blue and green, and were accompanied by poorly preserved wooden sticks. And the shapes of the pieces aren’t much help in figuring out how this Mesopotamian pastime actually worked; some are carved to look like pigs, dogs and pyramids while others take on more generic board game staples such as cylinders, dice, and flat, round discs. So while previous similar finds were a bit easier to diagnose, this elaborate set has archaeologists puzzled. As Haluk Sağlamtimur of Ege University in İzmir, Turkey told Discovery News:
[Previous, similar pieces] were found as isolated, single objects, therefore they were believed to be counting stones. On the contrary, our gaming pieces were found all together in the same cluster. It’s a unique finding, a rather complete set of a chess like game. We are puzzling over its strategy. According to distribution, shape and numbers of the stone pieces, it appears that the game is based on the number 4.
What the find does tell us, though, is that board games did in fact likely originate in the Fertile Crescent over 5000 years ago as the gaming stones were found in one of Başur Höyük’s nine graves, a site that dates back to 7000BC and was located on a trade route between Mesopotamia and East Anatolia. And its location on the route adds further credence to the theory that there was “a coexistence of traditions and continuity of relationships between the settlements”.
So the next time you find yourself trapped by a game that just won’t seem to end, you can at least take pride in the knowledge that you’re carrying on a tradition thousands of years old. [Discovery News]