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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102 Comments
  • helen0916
    helen0916Thursday, August 6, 2020 at 10:12 pm
    this is really cool. I knew DOGO news has the most interesting facts! It's the best!
    • phoinexx
      phoinexxThursday, July 23, 2020 at 5:11 pm
      It's amazing to think that we aren't that different from our ancestors. Also how do you roll a rectangl?
      • kandykain0821
        kandykain0821Thursday, July 23, 2020 at 9:52 am
        I never knew that they had ancient games in the past.
        • animereina2020
          animereina2020Thursday, July 23, 2020 at 5:59 pm
          Me too! I thought that in ancient times people were bored all of the time.
        • amers
          amersWednesday, July 22, 2020 at 6:40 am
          This is really cool! Fun and interesting! # DOGO news is the best!!!!!😁😃👍👍👍
          • ladymiraculous
            ladymiraculousTuesday, July 21, 2020 at 1:46 pm
            This is so 😎!
            • pandas4523
              pandas4523Saturday, July 18, 2020 at 1:10 pm
              𝔸𝕞𝕒𝕫𝕚𝕟𝕘!
              • cutekoala
                cutekoalaTuesday, July 14, 2020 at 2:45 pm
                So Cool
                • 29zabraham
                  29zabrahamTuesday, July 14, 2020 at 8:06 am
                  fantastic!!
                  • vkgisawesome
                    vkgisawesomeMonday, July 13, 2020 at 10:10 pm
                    Cool! Didn't know this!
                    • harrypfangirl
                      harrypfangirlMonday, July 13, 2020 at 1:12 pm
                      That's awesome!! I wonder if one day we'll find some Uno cards in a tomb or something... lol
                      • helen0916
                        helen0916Thursday, August 6, 2020 at 10:13 pm
                        Hahaha that would be very awesome and funny!
                        • kalcool1705
                          kalcool1705Monday, July 27, 2020 at 9:12 am
                          Lol
                          • amers
                            amersWednesday, July 22, 2020 at 6:41 am
                            That would be funny and VERY cool!😋
                            • 29zabraham
                              29zabrahamTuesday, July 14, 2020 at 8:06 am
                              this is gooooooooooooooooood