A fascinating find in southeastern Turkey may provide clues to the leisure activities of ancient cultures in the region thousands of years ago.
Earlier in August, Turkish archaeologists working at a burial site at Başur Höyük, near Siirt, Turkey, discovered dozens of elaborately carved, 5,000-year-old stones in different shapes and colors, according to Discovery News. These Bronze Age stones are believed to be some of the oldest examples ever found of ancient game pieces.
"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, a researcher with Ege University in İzmir, Turkey, told Discovery News.
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The pieces could be part of a single, chess-like game, Sağlamtimur said, which would make the find even more unusual. Other experts are not so sure, however.
Ulrich Schädler, director of the Swiss Museum of Games in La Tour-de-Peilz, told the New Scientist that he believes the carved tokens more likely belong to several different games.
"Do the objects really all belong to one game? I would answer no," Schädler told New Scientist. "We don't have the slightest trace of a board game using more than two different kinds of pieces before chess."
Smithsonian Magazine notes that the pieces were found in a region known as the Fertile Crescent, "traditionally thought to be one of the birthplaces of modern agricultural human societies."
Other ancient games that have been found in or around the Fertile Crescent include the Royal Game of Ur, which dates back around 4,800 years in southern Iraq, and Senet, an ancient game played in predynastic Egypt, according to the Smithsonian.
In a Discovery News piece from last year, the site reported that board games likely originated in Egypt and the Fertile Crescent but that games have also been discovered in ancient India and China. Far from being a recreational pastime for the masses, however, the earliest games were apparently played only by the ancient elite, according to Discovery News.
"Many of the first board games appear to have been diplomatic gifts to signify status," Mark Hall, a researcher studying ancient games, told Discovery News. "We have early examples of quite splendid playing pieces belonging to elite, privileged people."