Neolithic board games

‘Tell me about this game,’ said Talus.

‘You mark out lines on the ground. Then you cross them with other lines. Each person takes a number of stones – one takes red, the other black – and you move the stones from one place to another.’ Arak licked his lips, clearly excited. ‘There are rules that make it difficult to move certain stones in certain directions.’ He stopped, suddenly embarrassed. ‘Anyway, it’s a lot of fun.’

‘Who told you these rules?’

Arak’s embarrassment became shyness. ‘Nobody. I invented them.’

The above is a passage from my novel Talus and the Frozen King. When I wrote it, I thought it was a terribly clever idea to have one of my neolithic characters invent a game that might conceivably have evolved into chess. But, like the man said, truth is stranger than fiction, as I realised recently when I stumbled over this article on Discovery News detailing the unearthing of what may be one of the world’s first board games.

According to the article, ‘Small carved stones unearthed in a nearly 5,000-year-old burial could represent the earliest gaming tokens ever found. Found in a burial at Başur Höyük, a 820- by 492-foot mound near Siirt in southeast Turkey, the elaborate pieces consist of 49 small stones sculpted in different shapes and painted in green, red, blue, black and white.’

My book is set a little earlier than this, but hey, if those Bronze Age folk were entertaining themselves by moving coloured stones around, I have no doubt their Stone Age ancestors were doing it too. My only regret is that I didn’t go the whole hog when I wrote the scene. Prehistoric chess? Hell, I want to know what the neolithic version of Mouse Trap would have looked like!

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