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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112 Comments
  • 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
      • gold3nglar3
        gold3nglar3Tuesday, 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
            • jazzybear1234
              jazzybear1234Thursday, September 24, 2020 at 11:08 am
              This was a very interesting story
              • sharkyplaygames
                sharkyplaygamesThursday, September 24, 2020 at 10:52 am
                This is a very interesting story I think it's so cool because they lived long ago and they actually found things that belonged to them I love to play board games so this was fun to listen to. In the story it said they lived more than 2 thousand years ago. And I like how they put it in museums for other people to see these are so old I wish I could go to the museum to see those accent artifacts. I'm a science person so this was one of the best stories I've ever heard!!!!
                • beepiestbeep
                  beepiestbeepThursday, September 24, 2020 at 10:20 am
                  pretty cool
                  • fornitegamer0
                    fornitegamer0Monday, September 21, 2020 at 9:45 am
                    cool
                    • good-dog
                      good-dogMonday, August 31, 2020 at 9:45 am
                      so cool!❤ love DOGO news