A photograph showing small ancient spheres. Image Credit: Konstantinos Trimmis.

Have Experts Solved the Mystery Behind These 4,500-Year-Old Spheres?

Ancient spheres, some of which date back to 4,500 years ago, have been found in various ancient settlements across the Mediterranean and Aegean.


The ancient world is full of mystery. The more we explore how people lived thousands of years ago, the more we learn how we evolved as a society. And although most of us are familiar with the giant spheres that have been found in many parts of the world, there are much smaller spheres that also have puzzled experts for quite some time. These smaller ancient spheres have been found in various ancient settlements across the Mediterranean and Aegean. Experts now say these may have once been playing pieces in one of the earliest board games ever invented, according to archaeologists from the University of Bristol.

Spheres found on Santorini, Crete, Cyprus, and other Greek Islands have been the subject of a lot of speculation regarding their use, which has included sling stones, tossing balls, counting, and record-keeping systems, or counters/pawns. University of Bristol researchers previously found that sphere sizes varied within clusters and collections of spheres. This led the team to investigate potential patterning within these sphere concentrations in an effort to gain a better understanding of their potential applications.


Almost 700 stones – ranging from 4,500 to 3,600 years old – found on the island of Santorini at the Bronze Age town of Akrotiri have been examined by Dr. Christianne Fernée and Dr. Konstantinos Trimmis of the University of Bristol’s Department of Anthropology and Archeology to determine common features. Different colors and materials are used to make the stones, which are smaller than a golf ball. There were two types of stones based on the analysis: larger stones and smaller stones. Furthermore, stone slabs with shallow cup marks have also been found in some settlements across the Aegean, possibly where the spheres were placed.

According to Dr. Ferneé, the study found two clusters of spheres (one of smaller stones, one of larger stones). Accordingly, the spheres are most likely to have been collected to fit these clusters rather than for a counting system, where more groupings would be expected, the researcher explained. If these ancient spheres were indeed part of a board game, then they represent some of the earliest examples, alongside the Egyptian Mehen and Senet from the Levant.

According to Trimmis, the spheres were deposited in specific cavities as evidence of their social importance, which supports the idea that they were part of a social game for interacting with others. The findings shed new light on social interaction during the Bronze Age in the Aegean.” To further investigate the cup marks on the slabs, a similar methodology will be applied to determine if there is clustering and to see if they are connected. To figure out how the game was actually played, the team also plans to use artificial intelligence techniques.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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