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Archaeo News 

17 August 2013
Set of 5000-year-old board game pieces discovered in Turkey

Small carved stones unearthed in a nearly 5,000-year-old burial could represent the earliest gaming tokens ever found, according to Turkish archaeologists who are excavating early Bronze Age graves. Found in a burial at Başur Höyük, a 820- by 492-foot mound near Siirt in southeast Turkey, the elaborate pieces consist of 49 small stones sculpted in different shapes and painted in green, red, blue, black and white. "Some depict pigs, dogs and pyramids, others feature round and bullet shapes. We also found dice as well as three circular tokens made of white shell and topped with a black round stone," Haluk Sağlamtimur of Ege University in İzmir, Turkey, said.
     According to the archaeologist, similar pieces were previously found in Tell Brak and Jemdet Nasr, two settlement mounds in northeastern Syria and in Iraq respectively. "But they were found as isolated, single objects, therefore they were believed to be counting stones," Sağlamtimur said. "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," he added.
     The find confirms that board games likely originated and spread from the Fertile Crescent regions and Egypt more than 5,000 years ago. The tokens were accompanied by badly preserved wooden pieces or sticks. Sağlamtimur hopes they'll provide some hints on the rules and logic behind the game. "According to distribution, shape and numbers of the stone pieces, it appears that the game is based on the number 4," he said.
     The newly discovered gaming stones has been recovered from one of nine graves found at Başur Höyük. The site was inhabited as early as from 7,000 B.C. and was on a trade route between Mesopotamia and East Anatolia. Overall, the graves revealed a unique treasure made of painted and unpainted pottery, bronze spearhead, various ritual artifacts, seals with geometric motifs and about 300 well-preserved amorphous bronze artifacts. The majority of pots featured bitumen residues. Sağlamtimur believes bitumen was most likely part of a burial ritual or was applied to prevent secondary use of the pots. Tens of thousands of beads made of mountain crystal and other types of stones were also recovered from the burials.
     Radio carbon dating traced the grave goods back to 3100-2900 BCE, confirming the Early Bronze Age stylistic features of the items and the advanced technological level of the local population. "The graves contained metal artifacts, ceramic finds and seals with different attributes and influences which indicate the local people were in close relationship with their surrounding cultural regions," Sağlamtimur said.

Edited from Discovery News (14 August 2013), Geek.com (15 August 2013)

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