Saturday, February 19, 2011

Games in Ancient Indus' Mohenjo-daro

Article from Past Horizons
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 | Featured, News

Play was a central element of people’s lives as far back as 4,000 years ago. This has been revealed by an archaeology thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, which investigates the social significance of the phenomenon of play and games in the Bronze Age Indus Valley in present-day Pakistan.

It is not uncommon for archaeologists excavating old settlements to come across play and game-related finds, but within established archaeology these types of finds have often been disregarded. [That sure is right!]

“They have been regarded, for example, as signs of harmless pastimes and thus considered less important for research, or have been reinterpreted based on ritual aspects or as symbols of social status,” explains author of the thesis Elke Rogersdotter.

She has studied play-related artefacts found at excavations in the ruins of the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro in present-day Pakistan. The remains constitute the largest urban settlement from the Bronze Age in the Indus Valley, a cultural complex of the same era as ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The settlement is difficult to interpret; for example, archaeologists have not found any remains of temples or palaces. It has therefore been tough to offer an opinion on how the settlement was managed or how any elite class marked itself out.

Elke Rogersdotter’s study shows some surprising results. Almost every tenth find from the ruined city is play-related. They include, for instance, different forms of dice and gaming pieces. In addition, the examined finds have not been scattered all over. Repetitive patterns have been discerned in the spatial distribution, which may indicate specific locations where games were played.

“The marked quantity of play-related finds and the structured distribution shows that playing was already an important part of people’s everyday lives more than 4,000 years ago,” says Elke.

Rest of article.

This is the caption from the article:
Chess pieces from Mohenjo-daro.
Photo: bennylin0724, Flickr

Are these chess pieces? As far as I know, there is no concrete evidence that chess was played 4,000 years ago by the people living in the Indus valley city-states/settlements.  But, it has to be admitted that the pieces are suggestive of the Staunton-designed pawns from the 19th century which, perhaps, own their inspiration to just such ancient game pieces.*  But to call them chess pieces?  Blasphemy!  Then again, "if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck..."

* It is known, for instance, that Staunton modeled his knight pieces on the horses in the Elgin Marbles ensconced in the British Museum.

Unfortunately, we don't know exactly where the pieces in the photograph were excavated, or how old they are.  The use of the photo in the article suggests that they are all from Mohenjo-daro, but it doesn't really say so, does it?  These could be a collection of gaming pieces from any museum in the world, which often seem to lump together without distinguishing ivory Islamic chess pieces together with 4,000 year old Egyptian faience senet pieces, 900 year old hnefatafl pieces and 400 year old bone chess pieces from Russia! 

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...