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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:1, Spring 2023

Then and Now: Board Games

Playing board games has been a popular pastime for millennia. One of the oldest board games in the world—the Royal Game of Ur—was first played in ancient Mesopotamia more than 4,500 years ago. Examples of other ancient board games have been found across the world—Wari in West Africa, Sugoroku in Japan and China, and Pachisi in India, to name a few. Board games were shared and enjoyed across regions and cultures. Backgammon, for example, was played in Mesopotamia, Persia, and the Byzantine Empire.

In the biblical world, board games were part of routine domestic life, but were also used in religious rituals and divination. At Tell es-Safi (biblical Gath), four fragmentary playing boards for the game known as “30 Houses”—as well as numerous game pieces—were found within ordinary houses.a The games, which date to the Early Bronze Age III (2900–2500 BCE), included boards made of soft chalk and small gaming pieces of worked stone and bone. The pieces show signs of regular use, indicating they were most likely enjoyed by everyone, regardless of age or social status.

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