4,000-Year-Old Board Game Discovered in Azerbaijan

This ancient game 'rocks'.

Archaeologists have come across what is believed to be the oldest board game ever discovered.

In around 2,000 BC, a group of nomadic desert herders sat down in modern-day Azerbaijan to play an ancient board game.

Experts suggest that nomadic hunter-gatherers were playing a backgammon-type board game more than 4,000 years ago, after discovering the playboard carved into the rock in Azerbaijan.

image Credit: Walter Crist/Gobustan National Park.
image Credit: Walter Crist/Gobustan National Park.

The ancient game is known as ‘58 holes,‘ or ‘Hounds and Jackals‘, and was spotted by archaeologists exploring Azerbaijan. The game is believed to have been played more than 4,000 years ago, and preliminary studies suggest the primitive game resembles modern-day backgammon.

This type of ancient board game is thought to have been played in the ancient world in Egypt, Anatolia as well as in Mesopotamia.

The most famous example is perhaps the one discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Amenemhat IV, dating back more than 3,800 years ago.

However, experts say that the ‘board game’ discovered in Azerbaijan may be a predecessor of the games played in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

“It suddenly appears everywhere at the same time,” Walter Crist of the American Museum of Natural History told Live Science.

“Right now, the oldest one is from Egypt, but it’s not by very much. So, it could just be because we haven’t found it from somewhere else older. So, it seems to [have] spread really quickly.”

Experts had previously come across similar discoveries where they identified holes drilled into rocks, but their use as a board game was not known until now.

Dr. Crist added: “There is no doubt in my mind — the games played for about 1,500 years and very regular in the way that it’s laid out.”

And while the rules of how the game was played remains a profound mystery lost in time, archaeologists believe the ancient board game was played just like modern-day backgammon.

“It is two rows in the middle and holes that arch around outside, and it’s always the fifth, 10th, 15th and 20th holes that are marked in some way.”

“And the hole on the top is a little bit larger than the other ones, and that’s usually what people think of as the goal or the endpoint of the game,” Dr. Crist explained.

Understanding board games that old is an extremely complex task, simply because there are way too many variables and possibilities.

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