These small sculpted stones unearthed from an early Bronze Age burial in Turkey could be the earliest gaming tokens ever found, confirming that board games likely originated and spread from the Fertile Crescent regions and Egypt more than 5,000 years ago.
The elaborate pieces consist of 49 small stones sculpted in different shapes and painted in green, red, blue, black and white.
"Some depict pigs, dogs and pyramids, others feature round and bullet shapes. We also found dice as well as three circular tokens made of white shell and topped with a black round stone," Haluk Sağlamtimur of Ege University in İzmir, Turkey, told Discovery News.
The playing pieces were recovered from one of nine graves found at Başur Höyük, a 820- by 492-foot mound near Siirt in southeast Turkey. Inhabited as early as from 7,000 BC, the site was on a trade route between Mesopotamia and East Anatolia.
Archaeological records indicate that board games were widely played in Mesopotamia. Several beautifully crafted boards were found by British archaeologist Leonard Wooley in the Royal cemetery of Ur, the ancient Sumerian city near the modern Iraqi city of Nasiriya which many consider the cradle of civilization.
Dating to 2550-2400 B.C., the boards were associated with the "Game of Twenty Squares," a board game played around 3000 B.C.
Beautiful tokens used in the game were found arranged in a row, with the colors alternating, in another Ur tomb. The set consisted of seven shell pieces inlaid with of five lapis lazuli dots and seven pieces of black shale inlaid with five dots of white shell.
Much more elaborate, the newly discovered gaming stones were found in one of nine graves found at Başur Höyük. The burials revealed metal artifacts, ceramic finds and seals with different attributes and influences. This indicates the local people had close connections with their surrounding cultural regions, said Sağlamtimur.
Radio carbon dating traced the grave goods back to 3100-2900 B.C., confirming the Early Bronze Age stylistic features of the items and the advanced technological level of the local population.
About 300 well-preserved amorphous bronze artefacts were present in the nine burials. The nearly 5,000 year old artifacts were produced following advanced technologies.
The burial featured an abundance of painted and unpainted pottery, with several examples from the Ninivite 5 culture, which spread throughout the eastern settlements of the Al Jazira, the river plain of Mesopotamia which encompasses northwestern Iraq and northeastern Syria.
"The findings at Başur Höyük add to our knowledge as they reveal a coexistence of traditions and a continuity of relationships between the settlements in the northern mountains and the Mesopotamia sites," Marcella Frangipane, a professor of prehistoric and protohistoric archaeology at Rome's La Sapienza, told Discovery News.
Tens of thousands of beads made of mountain crystal and other types of stones were recovered.
The abundance of bronze spearhead and other weapons, not appearing in the Mesopotamia Ninivite burials, reveal the presence of "an important warrior component," Marcella Frangipane said.
"The study of these findings, along with other discoveries in east-Anatolian sites, will allow us to reconstruct a new history of this crucial region which is indeed the meeting point of the most ancient Near East civilizations," she added.