Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ancient (Very) Gaming Pieces Discovered in Bronze Age Tombs in Turkey

Hola darlings! Today I am being terrorized by some kind of insect I haven't seen before.  I think it is a new-born and stupid and doesn't know any better than to continually hang around my patio door. It was hanging on my screen door this morning when I wanted to go out and sweep the deck, about 8:30 a.m. -- and it was translucent, so translucent I could see it's insides quite clearly through the screen.  It was lovely - but also icky.  At first I thought it was a new-born tree frog, but after checking to see if it had moved away every 15 minutes or so over the next several hours, it began to look more and more like an insect.  ICK!

I have thus far refrained from freaking out and, er, eliminating it, hoping IT WILL JUST GO AWAY!  So far, no luck.  So my plan for enjoying a beautiful afternoon on my deck in the shade at my table, under the umbrella with my feet up, and a LARGE glass of wine -- gone to Hades!  Maybe it it is a newly-hatched circada -- it's translucent and emerald green - at least, right now it still is.  I do not enjoy killing insects -- I just do not want them anywhere NEAR where I am, at least, not where they are visible and I can SEE them creeping about.  Particularly not in or about my living area.  EEEUUUUUWWWWWWWW!

Okay, so to the important news!  Here's the article:

Oldest Gaming Tokens Found in Turkey
Aug 14, 2013 12:50 PM ET //by Rossella Lorenzi

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 Başur 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.

These small sculpted stones unearthed from an early Bronze Age burial in Turkey could be the earliest
gaming tokens ever found.  Haluk Sağlamtimur

"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 Sağlamtimur of Ege University in İzmir, Turkey, told Discovery News.

According to the archaeologist, who presented his finding at the annual symposium of excavations, surveys and archaeometry in Muğla, 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," Sağlamtimur 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. Sağlamtimur 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.

Dating from the First Dynasty of Ur, around 2550-2400 B.C., the boards were associated with the "Game of Twenty Squares," a board game played around 3000 B.C. Beautiful tokens related to the game were found arranged in a row, with the colors alternating, in another Ur tomb. The set consisted of seven shell roundels inlaid with of five lapis lazuli dots and seven roundels of black shale inlaid with five dots of white shell.

Much more elaborate, the newly discovered gaming stones were recovered from one of nine graves found at Başur 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.

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Let's be clear about this -- these pieces evidently represent the oldest positively identified gaming pieces discovered in Turkey -- not in the entire world.  Nonetheless, a very important discovery in the ongoing quest to discover the earliest roots of board games. 

How I wish Mr. Don was alive to read about this discovery.  He would feel SO vindicated, and rightly so, I think.  From the beginning of Goddesschess back in the ancient days of the internet (1998) we've followed the trail of the development of ancient board games and tried to leave no stone (pun for gaming piece, har :)) unturned in our quest to go back as far as we could and see if we could uncover the very beginnings of ancient board games, particularly the game of chess. 

And so now, some 10 months after his passing, there is this YES! The "Ah HA! moment!!! Don never believed "chess" first arose in India and neither do I.  I've seen nothing since 1998 to convince me otherwise and up to his death, neither did Don.   While amateur historian H.J.R. Murray did an invaluable service by gathering a compendium of ancient gaming pieces and game boards using information that was available to him back in the late 1890's and early 1900's, he was just wrong to conclude on the available evidence that chess was invented in India and spread out into the known world at the time from there.

I am NOT proclaiming that these pieces represent a precursor to chess, although it is extremely interesting that the archeologists think the game the peices were used in may be based on the number FOUR.  Chess is based on 64 -- two sides of 16 pieces each in "western" chess.  The total pieces in a game of modern western chess are: 16 pawns; 2 kings; 2 queens; 4 bishops; 4 knights, 4 castles or rooks.  Hmmmm..... 

It will be extremely difficult to deny that the Basur Hoyuk pieces are gaming pieces when SO MANY OF THEM HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE -- A TOMB. I seem to recall that the Initiativ Gruppe Konigstein, composed of some scholars, some chess collectors, and a lot of "amateurs" who have educated themselves on the whys and wherefores of ancient games, back in the late 1990's or so set forth certain criteria for identifying an object as a game piece (a chess piece or otherwise); one is that more than one object/piece should be discovered in a group in one spot or at least within close proximity to each other so that it would not be illogical to conclude that the pieces were originally a group or set. A single piece that might otherwise be identified as a gaming piece discovered in isolation cannot positively be identified as such (except when it is owned by an extremely wealthy collector, but we won't go there...). 

So, I look forward to the development of examination and debate on this latest discovery.  The pieces themselves, are quite beautiful.  The pyramids, "bullet-shaped" and pig pieces are easily identified, as are the "button" pieces.  Where are the dog pieces?  I know my eyes are not as good as they used to be, darlings, but do you see anything that looks like a dog?  I only ask because "dogs" and other canines, were used as game pieces throughout the ancient Middle East and Fertile Crescent as well as in board games in ancient Greece -- millenia later the Basur Hoyuk pieces are dated! 

Will report any further news on this discovery as I find it.

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