The Royal Game of Ur. From Ur, southern Iraq, about 2600-2400 BC.
One of the most popular games of the ancient world
This game board is one of several with a similar layout found by Leonard Woolley in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The wood had decayed but the inlay of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli survived in position so that the original shape could be restored. The board has twenty squares made of shell: Five squares each have flower rosettes, ‘eyes’, and circled dots. The remaining five squares have various designs of five dots. According to references in ancient documents, two players competed to race their pieces from one end of the board to another. Pieces were allowed on to the board at the beginning only with specific throws of the dice. We also know that rosette spaces were lucky.
The gaming pieces for this particular board do not survive. However, some sets of gaming pieces of inlaid shale and shell were excavated at Ur with their boards. The boards appear to have been hollow with the pieces stored inside. Dice, either stick dice or tetrahedral in shape, were also found.
Examples of this ‘Game of Twenty Squares’ date from about 3000 BC to the first millennium AD and are found widely from the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt to India. A version of the Mesopotamian game survived within the Jewish community at Cochin, South India until modern times. (x)
Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photo taken by Julio Martínez.
Also: if you’re interesting in seeing how this game works, the British Museum have set up a site where you can play it online (it does require Shockwave to run though).