News

4000-year-old game board discovered in Azerbaijan

Walter Crist/Gobustan National Park

Date: 10-12-2018

A pattern of small holes cut into the floor of an ancient rock shelter in Azerbaijan shows that one of the world's most ancient board games was played there by nomadic herders around 4,000 years ago, according to an archaeologist who has investigated the find.
Walter Crist, a research associate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, visited the rock shelter in a national park in Azerbaijan last year, searching for traces of the ancient game now known as "58 Holes."
The game is also sometimes called "Hounds and Jackals." British archaeologist Howard Carter found a game set with playing pieces fashioned like those animals in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Amenemhat IV, who lived in the 18th century B.C.
The distinctive pattern of round pits scored in the rock of the shelter in Azerbaijan came from that same game, Crist told Live Science. But the Azerbaijan version may be even older than the game set found in the pharaoh's tomb.
Evidence from rock drawings near this shelter suggested that it dated to the second millennium B.C., or about 4,000 years ago, when that part of Azerbaijan was populated by nomadic cattle herders, he said.
At that time, the game was widespread across the ancient Middle East, including Egypt, Mesopotamia and Anatolia, he said.
"It suddenly appears everywhere at the same time," Crist said. "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."Azerbaijan journey
Crist was looking for the remains of another copy of 58 Holes or Hounds and Jackals that he had seen in a photograph in a magazine from Azerbaijan.
But after arranging to fly there, he learned a new housing development had buried the archaeological site near the country's capital, Baku.
So, Crist investigated other archaeological sites in Azerbaijan, which led him to the Gobustan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the southwest of the country, which is famed for its ancient rock carvings and drawings.
Archaeologists at the park knew about the holes in the rock shelter, but not that they had been used as a board game.The holes are cut into the rock of the shelter in a distinctive pattern that shows how they were used, Crist said. "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," Crist said.
Though the rules of 58 Holes are unknown, many think it was played a bit like modern backgammon, with counters, such as seeds or stones, moved around the board until they reached a goal.
"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," Crist said of the pattern cut into the rock shelter. "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."
Players may have used dice or casting sticks to regulate the movement of counters on the board, but so far, no dice have been found with any ancient game set of 58 Holes or Hounds and Jackals, he said.
While it has been reported that the game is an ancient ancestor of modern backgammon, Crist rejects that idea — they have some similarities, but backgammon was derived from the much later Roman game Tabula, he said.
The game of 58 Holes is old, but it's not the oldest yet found; the Royal Game of Ur, dating from the third millennium B.C., is older, for example. Crist has also studied the ancient Egyptian board games of Senet and Mehen, which appeared starting around 3000 B.C.
Crist said the use of such ancient games throughout a wide area showed that they were able to cross cultural boundaries.
"People are using the games to interact with one another," he said. Games were "kind of a uniquely human thing, kind of an abstraction — moving stones in blank spaces on the ground has no real effect on your daily life, except for the fact that it helps you interact with another person.
"So, a game is a tool for interaction, kind of like language — a shared way of being able to interact with people," Crist said.

More News

large Byzantine-era pithos discovered in Turkey (12-03-2019) Roman-era grave found in Turkey (01-03-2019) 2,000-year-old terracotta figures found in China (13-02-2019) Ancient ship workshop discovered in Sinai (12-02-2019) Skeleton of teen girl discovered in Egypt (12-02-2019) 50 mummies discovered in Minya, Egypt (02-02-2019) Extinct human species found in Siberian cave (31-01-2019) First British beer discovered in Cambridgeshire (31-01-2019) 2,000-year-old winery discovered in Egypt (29-01-2019) Ancient tombs found in Nile Delta (24-01-2019) Six tombs uncovered in Aswan (21-01-2019) 2,000-year-old coin workshop excavated in China (18-01-2019) Prehistoric site uncovered in Scotland (16-01-2019) 2,000-year-old road unearthed in Istanbul (12-01-2019) Ancient tomb group unearthed in China (11-01-2019) Roman road remains discovered in England (11-01-2019) Well-preserved fossil found in Argentina (08-01-2019) 4,000-year-old cave site unearthed in China (04-01-2019) 2,600-year-old health center discovered in Turkey (03-01-2019) Pre-Aztec temple uncovered in Mexico (03-01-2019) Ancient bathhouse revealed in Turkey (25-12-2018) Remains of horses found in ancient Pompeii  (23-12-2018) Christian monument discovered in Cyprus (21-12-2018) Ancient Aramaic incantation uncovered in Turkey (20-12-2018) 4,400-year-old tomb discovered in Saqqara, Egypt (17-12-2018) 18th Dynasty tomb discovered in Aswan (13-12-2018) Middle Ages skulls uncovered in Scotland (07-12-2018) Middle Kingdom burial well discovered in Egypt (07-12-2018) Bronze Age treasure found in Slovakia (05-12-2018) Skeletons found in London reveal noxious environs (04-12-2018) Roman-era tomb discovered in southwestern Bodrum (30-11-2018) Ancient mummies discovered south of Cairo (28-11-2018) Egypt unveils ancient female sarcophagus (24-11-2018) Ancient city discovered on Turkey’s west coast (21-11-2018) 7,000 Years ago mass grave discovered in Turkey (21-11-2018) Sensual fresco discovered in ancient Pompeii (19-11-2018) Legendary dragon stone unearthed in Turkey (16-11-2018) Ice Age cave art found in France (15-11-2018) 15th century indigenous tombs discovered in Bolivia (15-11-2018) Pregnant woman's skeleton found in Kom Ombo (15-11-2018) Hundreds of tiny terracotta warriors found in China (13-11-2018) 7,500-year-old footprints discovered in Turkey (13-11-2018) Mummified scarab beetles discovered in Egypt (10-11-2018) Oldest known animal drawing found in Indonesia (07-11-2018) 17th-Century fortifications found in Quebec (06-11-2018) 6,000-year-old stone ax discovered in Virginia (01-11-2018) Archaeologist finds megalithic statue in Indonesia (31-10-2018) Ancient ramp discovered in Egyptian alabaster quarry (31-10-2018) 2,000-year-old athletes' tools found in Turkey's Assos (31-10-2018) Evidence of early Cacao use discovered in Ecuador (29-10-2018) Controversial HS2 burial site dig at London Euston begins (26-10-2018) 18th century Russian shipwreck found in Turkey (23-10-2018) 9,000-year-old seal unearthed in southern Turkey (23-10-2018) World's oldest intact shipwreck discovered in Black Sea (23-10-2018) 3,200-year-old Assyrian artifact found in Turkey (19-10-2018) Ancient ship wrecks found in Greece (16-10-2018) Viking ship burial discovered in Norway (15-10-2018) 1,500-year-old antiquities found in Turkey (14-10-2018) Bronze Age findings discovered in Greece (12-10-2018) Tomb of a Pharaoh's friend found in Egypt (09-10-2018) Cremated family remains found in western Turkey (08-10-2018) 16-million-year-old fish fossil found in Turkey (04-10-2018) Several sculptures unearthed in Jordan (03-10-2018) Ancient paintings discovered at Temple of Kom Ombo (01-10-2018) Ancient cemetery unearthed in Albania (29-09-2018) Roman-era home discovered near Giza (25-09-2018) Centuries-old shipwreck discovered near Portugal (23-09-2018) A relief of king Amenhotep I recovered from London (21-09-2018) Grinding stone found in eastern Turkey (20-09-2018) A sarcophagus with a mummy uncovered in Aswan (18-09-2018) Archaeologists find sphinx at Aswan temple (17-09-2018) Cave drawings discovered in South Africa (13-09-2018) First Viking city excavated in Denmark (13-09-2018) Paleolithic Mammoth kill site discovered (07-09-2018) Pharaonic cemetery found near Senusert I pyramid (05-09-2018) Traces found of world's oldest cheese (05-09-2018) Archaeologists unearth Neolithic village in Egypt (03-09-2018) London excavations reveal Shakespearean theater (30-08-2018) Roman coins found in Yorkshire  (26-08-2018) Massive pyramid unearthed in China (23-08-2018) Skeletons found in Alexandria analyzed (19-08-2018) Ancient Egyptian mummification 'recipe' revealed (16-08-2018) Heatwave reveals lost UK archaeological sites (15-08-2018) Ancient Octagon-Shaped tomb discovered in China (10-08-2018) Mexican archeologists find 7,000-year-old Mayan remains in cave (09-08-2018) Archaeologists marvel at Neolithic axes finds in Scotland (08-08-2018) Burial chambers discovered in Egypt (31-07-2018) Six 2000-year-old Greek statues discovered in Turkey (28-07-2018) Roman-Era burial discovered in Greece (24-07-2018) Ancient Arctic fibers date back before Vikings arrived (22-07-2018) Roman bath discovered in England (21-07-2018) Archaeologists find ancient pottery workshop in Egypt (19-07-2018) Archaeological chambers uncovered in Alexandria (13-07-2018) Traces of war found in ancient Lydian city Sardis (13-07-2018) Osiris statuette discovered between blocks of Saqqara step pyramid (02-07-2018) 2,000-year-old grave found in Siberia (22-06-2018) Archaeologists find ancient rock art in Egypt (13-06-2018) Ancient Black Death victims found in Russia (08-06-2018) Nine smuggled ancient Egyptian artefacts recovered from France (07-06-2018) Egyptian 'Hawk Mummy' was actually human (01-06-2018) Greco-Roman bath, artefacts discovered at San El-Hagar archaeological site in Egypt (23-05-2018) Treasure trove reveals origins of 800-year-old shipwreck discovered in the Java Sea (16-05-2018) 85,000-year-old footprints found in Saudi Arabia (14-05-2018) Remains of ancient horse discovered at Pompeii (11-05-2018) 40,000 year old stone tools discovered in Australia (04-05-2018) Largest known child sacrifice site discovered in Peru (28-04-2018) 3,000-year-old horse got a human-style burial in Sudan (26-04-2018) Researchers discover evidence of Stone Age veterinary surgery (19-04-2018) Bronze age pot uncovered in Cornwall field in England (17-04-2018) Ancient shark fishermen found buried with extra limbs (13-04-2018) Slaughterhouse uncovered in Edinburgh city centre (06-04-2018) Massive Ancient Drawings Found in Peruvian Desert (05-04-2018) Remains of Graeco-Roman temple discovered near Egypt's Siwa Oasis (04-04-2018) Oldest human footprints in North America discovered (28-03-2018) Rare female pharaoh artwork found in Wales (23-03-2018) Mysterious Denisovans interbred with modern humans more than once (16-03-2018) Oldest Windsor artifact unearthed in Southern Canada (08-03-2018) Ancient human remains found in giant Mexican cave (22-02-2018) Deadly mystery of Turkey’s ancient ‘Gate to Hell’ revealed (20-02-2018) Ancient statue of Nubian king found in Nile temple (20-02-2018) Roman boxing gloves unearthed by Vindolanda dig (20-02-2018) Ancient footprints reveal lifestyle of children 700,000 years ago (16-02-2018) 2nd century Roman temple uncovered in Aswan (13-02-2018) The mystery of Egypt's screaming mummy (12-02-2018) Ancient statues stolen from Lebanon returned after decades (12-01-2018) Ancient fortress investigated in Scotland (12-01-2018) Scythian tomb found in Siberia (12-01-2018) Archaeologists Unveil Two Major Discoveries in Upper Egypt's Tel Edfu and Kom Ombo (11-01-2018) Wreck of Dutch Warship Found Buried Beneath Coral in the Coast of Mexico (09-01-2018) 841-year-old War Mystery Solved (04-01-2018) Ancient Burial Chambers Containing Artifacts Discovered in Turkey's Izmir (03-01-2018) Ancient Irrigation System Discovered in China (03-01-2018) One of The Oldest Toy Collection Discovered in Southern Siberia (28-12-2017) Tudor-Era Blockhouse Unearthed in England (27-12-2017) Construction Workers Discover Underground City in Central Turkey’s Çorum (21-12-2017) Bronze Age Burials Discovered in Scotland (15-12-2017) New Discoveries in Aswan Including Child Burials, Small Artemis Statue (14-12-2017) Spy Satellites are Revealing Afghanistan’s Lost Empires (13-12-2017) Ancient Tomb Full of Soup Bowls and Food Vessels Discovered in China (12-12-2017) Two Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom-era Tombs Opened at Luxor Necropolis (09-12-2017) 2,800 year-old Urartian Stele Discovered in Turkey (06-12-2017) Ottoman-era Qurans Found in Palestinian Town (06-12-2017) Saint Nicholas’ Bone Proved to Be Correct Age (06-12-2017) Ancient Urartian Settlement Discovered in Turkey's Eastern Erzurum (03-12-2017) Statues of Ancient Egyptian Lioness Deity Sekhmet Uncovered in Luxor (03-12-2017) Medieval Road Discovered in Southern England (29-11-2017) Rock Art Depicting Stone Age Camel Discovered in Russian Cave (29-11-2017) Julius Caesar’s Britain Invasion Site Found by Archaeologists (29-11-2017) Statue of Hygieia and Eros Uncovered in Southern Turkey (26-11-2017) Roman Shipwrecks Discovered Near Alexandria (21-11-2017) Neanderthal Extincted Much Later Than We Thought (20-11-2017) 14 ancient Egyptian Artifacts to be Returned from Cyprus (20-11-2017) 1,400-Year-Old Loom Discovered in Iraq (15-11-2017) Evidence of world's Earliest Wine Making Uncovered in Georgia (15-11-2017) Cremated Remains of the Buddha Discovered in Chinese Village (14-11-2017) Mummy Discovered at Fayoum's Deir Al-Banat (14-11-2017) Underwater Ruins of 3,000-year-old Castle Discovered in Turkey (12-11-2017) 300,000-year-old Skulls Could Rewrite the Human Origin Story (10-11-2017) First Infertility Diagnosis Discovered in Cuneiform Tablet in Turkey (09-11-2017) Archaeologists Discover Masterpiece Seal Stone in Greek Tomb (09-11-2017) Cambridge Academics Uncover 2,000-year-old Roman Sundial (08-11-2017) 2,000-year-old Luxury Baths Discovered in China (07-11-2017) Ancient Persian Temple Discovered in Northern Turkey (06-11-2017) First Hellenistic Gymnasium in Egypt Discovered at Watfa Village in Fayoum (06-11-2017) Construction Workers Find Ancient Sarcophagus Cover in Turkey's Gümüşhane (03-11-2017) Cache of Antique Coins Discovered in England (03-11-2017) Mysterious Void Discovered in Khufu's Great Pyramid at Giza (02-11-2017) Pictish Stone Carving Uncovered in Scotland (31-10-2017) World's Smallest Paleolithic Ornamental Beads Unearthed in China (30-10-2017) Archaeologists excavate 400 Iron Age houses in Denmark (26-10-2017) Skull Found in Papua New Guinea was World's Oldest-Known Tsunami Victim (25-10-2017) Archaeologists Find Cache of Assyrian Cuneiform Tablets in Iraq (23-10-2017) Coptic Tombstone Unearthed at Sphinxes Avenue in Luxor (23-10-2017) 8,600-year-old Bear Statuette Unearthed in Turkey’s Izmir (22-10-2017) Unique 5,000 Year Old Figurine Found in Russia (20-10-2017) Archaeology Fossil Teeth Discovery in Germany Could Re-write Human History (19-10-2017) Head of Queen Ankhnespepy II statue Discovered in Giza's Saqqara (18-10-2017) Ancient Monument Discovered in Greek Island of Thirassia (18-10-2017) 400 Mysterious Ancient Stone Structures Discovered in Saudi Arabia (17-10-2017) Gilt-bronze Buddha Triad Found in South Korea (17-10-2017) Parts of a Ramses II Temple Uncovered in Giza's Abusir (15-10-2017) Goatherd Discovers Millennia-old Mammoth Fossil in Central Turkey (08-10-2017) Arabic Islamic Writing Discovered in Sweden's Viking Graves (07-10-2017) Ax Linked to Ötzi the Iceman Found North of the Alps (06-10-2017) 2,000-year-old Olive Oil Mill Uncovered in Turkey’s Aegean Region (05-10-2017) Archaeologists Unearth Largest-ever Discovered Obelisk Fragment from Egypt’s Old Kingdom (05-10-2017) Mysterious Stone Tools Unearthed at Bronze-Age Site in Wales (05-10-2017) Ancient Wall Markings of Wild Animals Uncovered in South Aswan (04-10-2017) Antikythera Shipwreck Yields Bronze Arm (04-10-2017) Earlier Sign of First Modern Humans is Found in DNA (29-09-2017) Canadian Rocks Hold Some of Oldest Evidence of Life on Earth (28-09-2017) 2,000-year-old Toys Discovered Inside Children's Tombs in Turkey (28-09-2017) Pre-Incan Grave with Skeletons of 1,000-year-old Human Sacrifices Found in Peru (27-08-2017) Two Toes of King Psamtik I Statue Excavated in Cairo (25-09-2017) Lost city of Alexander the Great found in Iraq (25-09-2017) Remains of 6,000-year-old Dwelling Found in Scotland (21-09-2017) Ancient Tombs Dating Back to Around 3,000 Years Found in India (21-09-2017) Ancient Shipwrecks Discovered in Black Sea's Dead Zone (20-09-2017) Medieval Porpoise Grave on Channel Island Puzzles Archaeologists (19-09-2017) WWI German Submarine Found off Belgium (19-09-2017) Yuan Dynasty Chieftains Tombs Discovered in Guizhou (18-09-2017) Skeletons Found in Ancient Tomb in Turkey (16-09-2017) Spanish Researchers Discover 30,000 year-old Cave Paintings (14-09-2017) Classic Car Unearthed by Archaeologists in England (14-09-2017) Plane Test Model Found in Lake Ontario (12-09-2017) Bronze Age grave in Greece (12-09-2017) 2,000-year-old Baby Bottle Unearthed in Turkey’s Çanakkale (12-09-2017) Egypt Archaeologists Unearth 3,500-year-old Tomb in Luxor (09-09-2017) Hundreds of Gold and Silver Iron Age Coins Unearthed in England (08-09-2017) Archeologist Using 3-D Imaging on Alberta's Historic Past in Canada (07-09-2017) Women Are Key To History Of Human Migration (06-09-2017) Swedish King's 17th-century Warship Found in Central Stockholm (06-09-2017) People May Have Lived in Brazil More Than 20,000 Years Ago (05-09-2017) Neanderthals and Early Humans Probably didn’t Meet at Rumored Rendezvous Site (04-09-2017) Roman Mosaic Floor Discovered in Southeast England (01-09-2017) Underwater Ruins of Lost Roman City Discovered in Tunisia (01-09-2017) Roman Remains Discovered at Newcastle Housing Site (28-08-2017) Old Shops Found in Turkey’s Antalya Province (27-08-2017) Archaeologists Find Gateway from 13th Century in Slovakia (25-08-2017) 5,000-Year-Old Wine Found In Italy (25-08-2017) At Ancient Pyramid in Peru, Remains of 19th Century Chinese Laborers Found (25-08-2017) Mathematical Secrets of Ancient Tablet Unlocked after Nearly a Century of Study (24-08-2017) Egyptian Antiquities Ministry Inspects Khufu Ship after Accident Causes Mild Damage to Beam (21-08-2017) Ancient Village Unearthed in New Zealand (18-08-2017) Possible Ancient Monks Complex Discovered in Minya Excavations (18-08-2017) 2,200-year-old Coins Record Hannibal's Defeat and the Start of the Roman Empire (14-08-2017) 106-year-old Dessert Left by Capt Scott Found in Antarctica (12-08-2017) 3000-year-old Circular Stone Wall Found in Peru (12-08-2017)