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Jordanian scholar works to put the pieces together of Neolithic board games

By Saeb Rawashdeh - Aug 22,2022 - Last updated at Aug 22,2022

Fragmentary game of 58 hole from Luristan, Iran, at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France (Photo courtesy of Louvre Museum)

IRBID — Since ancient times, humans have had leisure time to win or lose in games of chance or skill, as evidenced by the excavations at Neolithic settlements in Jordan that have revealed several of the world’s oldest extant board games, according to a Jordanian archaeologist.

Speaking during the 15th International Conference on the History and Archaeology of Jordan, which recently concluded at Irbid’s Yarmouk University, Professor of Ancient Archaeology at Mutah University Hamzeh Mahasneh said that board games were the most frequently played games during ancient times, and the game boards found in the Levant indicate that they date to 7,000 BC.

The presence of complete game boards at Beidha near Petra, Ain Ghazal near Marka, Es-Sifiya in Wadi Mujib, Abu-Tulayha in the Jabr depression and Hamarash sites in Wadi Hasa should be taken to represent the earliest evidence of game playing in Jordan, said Mahasneh during his presentation titled “How did People in Jordan Use their Leisure Time during the Early Neolithic Period?” 

The excavated game boards in Jordan resemble, to a certain degree, the design of a game called mangala that is played today in some Middle East countries, he said.

Mangala is a two-player, strategy-based board game played with two components: small stones, beans, or seeds; and rows of holes in the earth, a board, or another playing surface. The objective is to capture all, or some set quantity of the opponent’s pieces, the professor said.

Knowledge of ancient board games remains limited, he continued, adding that the geographic distribution, the name of the game, and the rules of the game remain unknown.

“Unfortunately, no clear evidence for game pieces was attested, small semi-translated colourful pebbles 1-2 cm. in diameter found in considerable quantity from various contexts including floor deposits may have substituted for them. We do not know whether the playing pieces were probably worked or not worked pebbles,” Mahasneh said.

“The marble board game discovered in Es-Sifiya is the best preserved,” said the professor, adding that in Abu-Tulayha, 25 limestone game boards were uncovered.

 

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