Ancient Civilizations Had Game Nights Too!

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The four sides of the elongated dice and the front and back sides of some of the game pieces archeologists found in Norway (Credit: University of Bergen)

Burying loved ones with basic necessities like grains, ceramic pots, and clothing, to ensure their comfort in the afterlife, was a fairly common tradition in ancient cultures. However, the families of some lucky individuals went a step further by including a board game for entertainment. Morten Ramstad, a researcher at the University of Bergen, Norway, and his team stumbled upon one of the rare artifacts — found only in a handful of graves before — while excavating the remains of an Early Iron Age (400-300 BC) burial mound in Western Norway.

Though the game board was missing, the archeologists, who revealed their findings on April 5, 2020, managed to retrieve the die and 18 circular game pieces. Unlike the modern-day cubical dice, which are marked with a different number of dots from one to six on each face, the ancient game counter was rectangular and had bulls-eye like indentations, indicating zero to five, on each of its four faces. The researchers speculate it may have been inspired by the oldest-known board game — Ludus latrunculorum, or the "Game of Mercenaries" — which was popular among ancient Romans. The two-person strategy game, which dates back to the 3rd century BC, was believed to be similar to chess or backgammon.

Shards of pottery found in the burial mound (Credit: University of Bergen)

The archeologists, who also unearthed remains of pottery jars, glass shards, and a bronze needle at the burial mound, believe the game pieces indicate the deceased was a wealthy individual. Ramstad and his team assert that in ancient civilizations, board games were a status symbol, signifying the owner's high social and economic standing. They indicated an individual's intellectual ability and also proved he/she could afford to spend time on such activities.

"These are status objects that testify to contact with the Roman Empire, where they liked to enjoy themselves with board games," Ramstad told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK. "People who played games like this were local aristocracy or upper class. The game showed that you had the time, profits, and ability to think strategically."

The long, rectangular dice had zero to five circles engraved on each of its faces (Credit: University of Bergen)

The researchers, who plan to put the restored game pieces in a museum, say the discovery provides insights into Norway's social structure during the Early Iron Age and gives a glimpse of what tabletop fun, at least for the elite, looked like during ancient times. "Finding a game that is almost two thousand years old is incredibly fascinating," Ramstad told NRK. "It tells us that the people then were not very different from us."

Resources: scienealert.com, smithsonianmag.com, www.uib.no

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114 Comments
  • misteforest
    misteforestFriday, June 4, 2021 at 9:19 am
    This is really interesting. Too bad I don't have game night -_- Tho, I love board games and video games (Especially video games) Do you guys have game night?
    • emeralddragon17
      emeralddragon17Thursday, May 20, 2021 at 7:12 pm
      Wow, so that's how game night was made!
      • uni_1243
        uni_1243Monday, May 10, 2021 at 12:53 pm
        Wow this is so cool
        • lmprincess414
          lmprincess414Wednesday, December 16, 2020 at 10:06 am
          OMG! so cool
          • maria_goodvibes
            maria_goodvibesWednesday, December 9, 2020 at 6:00 pm
            ooh i really like this news article, so fun!
            • maddmax2024
              maddmax2024Tuesday, November 24, 2020 at 6:52 am
              this was such a good news artcal
              • kathysmolpatato
                kathysmolpatatoTuesday, November 10, 2020 at 6:04 pm
                I love this article it's really nice
                • gold3nglare
                  gold3nglareTuesday, October 27, 2020 at 10:45 am
                  That's cool!
                  • happybunnygirl
                    happybunnygirlSunday, October 4, 2020 at 12:08 pm
                    Cool!
                    • livirenick
                      livirenickThursday, September 24, 2020 at 11:15 am
                      that is cool