Recently Discovered Ancient Board Game Is 4000 Years Old

There’s nothing like a good game night. A time to gather around and hash it out over a game of Clue or Settlers of Catan. But the joy board games bring, to pass the time during a long winter or connect with friends, isn’t new. Board games have been around for a very long while—even longer than written languages. Our most recent example of an ancient board game comes by way of Smithsonian Magazine, which reported on the discovery of a Backgammon-like game in modern day Oman. One that is likely 4000 years old.

An ancient board game like backgammon discovered in Oman
J. Silwa-PCMA UW

It’s the latest find in a project examining Northern Oman’s Qumayrah Valley and the development of settlements during the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Prof. Piotr Bieliński from the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archeology, University of Warsaw (PCMA UW) and Dr. Sultan al-Bakri, Oman’s Director General of Antiquities at the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism (MHT) are leading the project.

The discovery occurred in December 2021, towards the end of dig season, near the village of Ayn Bani Sa’idah. The settlement is from the Umm an-Nar period of the Bronze Age, which dates to around 2600-2000 BC. And while the board game was the most surprising find during the excavation, it was just one of many discoveries. Others included several towers and—one of which would’ve been 20 meters, or around 65 feet tall—and evidence of copper work. (Professor Bieliński noted in a press release that copper trade was especially prevalent in Oman during this era.)

The Oman excavation site where archaeologists found a board game
J. Silwa-PCMA UW

Still, though, the board game was a pretty exciting find, given how rare they are to stumble across. Belinski noted, “Such finds are rare, but several examples are known from India, Mesopotamia and even the Eastern Mediterranean basin. The most famous example of a game-board based on a similar principle is the one from the graves from Ur.”

Now, the ancient board game discovered in Oman isn’t the oldest recorded game. That belongs to a game found in the Royal Game of Ur, which Belinski mentions above. But still, it’s pretty dang old.  It’s always incredibly interesting to see how settlers who lived thousands of years before Mr. Monopoly entered our world passed the time. 

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