Monday, December 13, 2010

Ancient Games and Gaming Boards - National Geographic

Mystery Holes
Photograph courtesy Barbara Voorhies

Workers clean a 4,300-year-old clay floor at the Tlacuachero archaeological site in Mexico's Chiapas state (see map) in February 2009.

Mysterious semicircles of holes (center and lower right) in the floor may be dice scoreboards, archaeologist Barbara Voorhies, a professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said recently. (Full story: Prehistoric Dice Boards Found—Oldest Games in Americas? New theory for mysterious 5,000-year-old semicircles in Mexico.)

If so, the circles are the oldest known evidence of games in Mesoamerica, a region that stretches from Mexico to Costa Rica.

In 1988 Voorhies found the buried floor under a mound created by the Chantuto people, foragers who lived along the coast of what's now southern Mexico between about 3,500 to 7,500 years ago.

In 2009 she found another clay floor just below the pictured floor—as well as portions of nine other semicircles. A historical account Voorhies discovered in 2009 revealed that the circles have a "striking similarity" to other Native American gaming boards.

"There's no absolute proof that my interpretation of these strange features [is right]," she said. "But it's a very strong analogy, and that's about as good as it gets for archaeology."

Voorhies received funding for her research from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

—Christine Dell'Amore

Published December 13, 2010


Evolution of the Game?
Image courtesy Barbara Voorhies

Tarahumara people of northern Mexico used a scoreboard and stick "dice" to play games (as seen in a 1907 illustration).
When Voorhies read the 1907 book Games of the North American Indians, she discovered the Tarahumara scoreboards resembled the strange Chantuto semicircles.

After that, her previous ideas about the Chantuto holes' purpose—for example that they may have been marks left by an animal pen's fenceposts—became "preposterous," she said.

Published December 13, 2010

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