5,000 year old tokens are game pieces?

The title of a news article at io9 is Archaeologists Unearth Pieces from a 5,000 Year-Old Board Game.

A Turkish archaeologist, of Haluk Sa?lamtimur of Ege University in ?zmir, Turkey, discovered the variously shaped tokens while excavating Bronze Age graves at Ba?ur Höyük near Siirt in southeast Turkey.

From io9.com
From io9.com

Sa?lamtimur, according to the online article at io9, thinks this is evidence of tokens being used as gaming pieces, apparently since they were found in one cache rather than as single, scattered pieces from multiple excavation units.

It’s an interesting hypothesis, but I’d like to see more information, particularly regarding the context(s) surrounding the pieces. Denise Schmandt-Besserat has long held a competing hypothesis about such tokens, which are found throughout the Near East around this time and even earlier. Indeed, some of her finds have been found in contexts which lend her hypotheses much credibility. Schmandt-Besserat sees these as early counting tokens -in short, an accountant’s spreadsheet or ledger. This idea is supported by the discovery of these sorts of tokens in bullae, small hollow balls of clay in which tokens were stored.

The idea is that you put small tokens representing trade items (goats, grain, hides, etc.) in a hollow ball of clay that is fired to harden. Perhaps you’ve pressed the tokens into the soft exterior of the clay before enclosing and firing. The recipient can then receive goods from you through a middleman who knows that the goods are represented by the tokens inside the clay ball. Keeping a little for himself becomes a risky proposition.

Still, it is somewhat fun to think that there were Bronze Age gamer-nerds around 5,000 years ago.

It’s also possible that both hypotheses are correct. Tokens could have been multi-use.


About Carl Feagans 397 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

1 Comment

  1. The usage of these tokens for counting purposes makes sense. The idea of a usage for both, gaming and counting, is attractive too, but it’s not more then speculation unless a gaming board or something similar was found together some tokens. On the other hand, I see no reason why bronze age people shouldn’t have played games.

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