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Friday, August 16, 2013

5000-Year-Old Tokens of 'Chess-Like' Game found in Turkey

Alexandra Kosteniuk's Chess Blog for Daily Chess News and Trivia (c) 2013

Hi everyone, 

A series of immaculately preserved stone tokens have been discovered at a 5,000 year-old burial site in Turkey. They could be the oldest gaming tokens ever found, say archaeologists.

A total of 49 stones were found, all painted different colours and depicting pigs, dogs, pyramids and other shapes. "It's a unique finding, a rather complete set of a chess-like game. We are puzzling over its strategy," Haluk Sağlamtimur of Ege University in İzmir told Discovery News, who initially reported it.

Similar stones have been found before in Syria and Iraq, said Sağlamtimur, while presenting his findings at a symposium in Turkey, but only as individual items and never as a collection. The stones were accompanied by dice, circular tokens and poorly preserved wooden sticks, which the archaeologists are hoping will shed some light on the rules of the game.

It's thought that board games originated in the Middle East. The Egyptian game Senet, which means "game of passing", is widely recognised as the earliest fully understood board game, dating back to around 3100 BC. Board games are known to have been a popular pastime in ancient Mesopotamia, which included areas of modern-day Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. In the 1920s, Sir Leonard Woolley discovered two game boards dating from around 2600 BC, from a game known as the Royal Game of Ur, or Game of Twenty Squares. One of the boards is currently exhibited in the British Museum in London.

Most of the earliest games discovered are race games based around tiled boards, although historians often disagree about the rules. A set rules for the Royal Game of Ur were written on a tablet of Babylonian origin -- also displayed in the British Museum -- but two separate sets of rules have been proposed for Senet, both of which have been adopted by companies that sell the game today. Historians are already puzzling over the rules for the new tokens, but suspect gameplay is based around the number four.

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