Thursday, August 22, 2013


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 Basur 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 Saglamtimur of Ege University in Izmir, Turkey, told Discovery News.

According to the archaeologist, who presented his finding at the annual symposium of excavations, surveys and archaeometry in Mugla, 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," Saglamtimur 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 (Senet from predynastic Egypt is considered the world's oldest game board). The tokens were accompanied by badly preserved wooden pieces or sticks. Saglamtimur 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.

Archaeological records indicate that board games were widely played in Mesopotamia. Several beautifully crafted boards were found by British archaeologist Leonard Wooley in the Royal cemetery of Ur, the ancient Sumerian city near the modern Iraqi city of Nasiriya which many consider the cradle of civilization.

The newly discovered gaming stones were recovered from one of nine graves found at Basur 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. Tens of thousands of beads made of mountain crystal and other types of stones were also recovered from the burials. "The gaming pieces, thousands of beads, hundreds of complete pots and metal artifacts indicate those graves were not ordinary burials but most probably belonged to individuals of a ruling class," Saglamtimur said.

"The findings at Basur Höyük add to our knowledge as they reveal a coexistence of traditions and a continuity of relationships between the settlements in the northern mountains and the Mesopotamia sites," Marcella Frangipane, a professor of prehistoric archaeology at Rome's La Sapienza, told Discovery News. Frangipane is the director of excavations at Arslantepe, a remote site near the town of Malatya and the source of the Euphrates in south-eastern Turkey, some 250 miles west from Basur Höyük.

"The study of these findings, along with other discoveries in east-Anatolian sites, will allow us to reconstruct a new history of this region which is indeed the meeting point of the most ancient Near East civilizations," Frangipane said.


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