Tuesday, December 4, 2012

LID: World's Oldest Game

December 4
National Dice Day

Happy National Dice Day. Dice is the plural form of the word die. According to dictionary.com dice are "small cubes of plastic, ivory, bone, or wood, marked on each side with one to six spots, usually used in pairs in games of chance or in gambling." Bone or wood? You read that right. Bone. Playing with dice is the oldest form of gaming known to mankind. There are several different types of games that have been played. Some have continued down through the ages while others have disappeared. Just as there are many different types of games there are also different many different shapes of dice. Most people know the eight sided dice. 

The world's oldest d20 die

The world's oldest d20 die, which is 20 sided die known as a Polyhedra, has been discovered in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art last month. The die dates to the Ptolemaic Period of Ancient Egypt somewhere between 304 to 30 BC. It was purchased by Reverend Chauncey Murch between 1883 and 1907 while he was a missionary in Egypt. Reverend Murch died in 1907. In 1910, the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased this die in a collection from the Murch family. It is not on public display. The ancient die's height measures at 3.2 x L: 3.8 x W: 3.4 cm (1 1/4 x 1 1/2 x 1 5/16 in.) and  is made out of serpentine. Each of the twenty sides is inscribed with a letter from one of the first 20 letters of the Greek alphabet. It is in remarkable shape for its age. Scholars don't know yet what the die was used for. Polyhedra dice were known to be used by the Romans.

Ancient Roman polyhedra from 2nd century BC
Before the discovery of the Egyptian polyhedra was made last month, the oldest known die was believed to be a glass die from the 2nd century. In 2008, Christie's, a well known fine arts auction house, auctioned off the glass Roman die for $17, 925. The die had been owned by a Maryland Fine Arts professor and had been purchased in 1920 Egypt but his father. Inscribed on each side are Roman symbols. Like it's Egyptian predecessor, modern scholars do not know what the die was used for.  

An Ancient Dice Game

The ancient societies of China, India, Egypt, Greece and Rome all played a variant of the dice game, Backgammon. From these societies, the game spread throughout the world. Backgammon has enjoyed a long history of popularity. It has been known by various names and had been played in a wide variety of forms. Known as "The King of Games" because some societies only allowed the aristocrats or ruling classes to play the game, it has survived for over 5,000 years.  

But where did this game originate?

In 2004, Iranian archeologists working on a large Bronze Age site known as Shahr-e Sukhteh (Burnt City) discovered a 5,000 year old backgammon board and dice. Shahr-e Sukhteh was one of the largest cities in the Bronze Age and associated with the Jiroft culture. You can learn more about the Jirot on YouTube at:

Shahr-e Sukhteh appeared around 3200 BC and had four stages of civilizations. The city grew so large it was considered one of the major cities at the dawn of the urban era. It contains 5,000 to 40,000 ancient graves on the Western end of the site. Shahr-e Sukhteh's population was between 5,000 to 6,000 people. Men tended to live to be between 35-45 years of age while women often lived well into their 80s.  The female population outnumber the males.  Shahr-e Sukhteh was burnt down three times before it was abandoned. You learn more about this interesting city including about the artificial eye that was discovered in December of 2006 at http://www.payvand.com/news/10/aug/1084.html

"The backgammon reveals intriguing clues to the lifestyle of those people. The board is rectangular and made of ebony, which did not grow in Sistan and merchants used to import it from India. The 60 pieces were also unearthed inside a terracotta vessel beside the board. They were made of common stones quarried in the city, including agate and turquoise," Mansour Sajjadi, head of the research team explained in an interview with Payvand Iran News in 2004. The discovery of the backgammon set and dice show that the game was in existence 100-200 years before the Mesopotamians were playing the game.

Below is a picture of the dice that were discovered at  Shahr-e Sukhteh: 

World's oldest die @http://www.payvand.com/news/10/aug/1084.html

The dice were found with a backgammon set, caraway seeds and numerous metallurgical items. 

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