Archaeologists working in the deserts of the Middle East have discovered a board game in an ancient settlement that people played four thousand years ago.
The excavations are carried out within the framework of the Omani-Polish project “Development of settlements in the mountains of Northern Oman in the Bronze and Iron Ages” under the joint supervision of Professor Piotr Bieliński from the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archeology of the University of Warsaw and Dr. Sultan al-Bakri (Sultan al-Bakri) from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism of Oman. Project specialists are exploring the development and forms of settlements in one of the least studied corners of Oman – in the mountain valleys of the northern part of the Hajar Range.
In the completed season, archaeologists focused on the cultural monuments of Umm al-Nar (2600-2000 BC), located near the village of Ain Bani Saadah. This settlement is located at the intersection of routes along which several large objects of the Umm al-Nar period have already been found. The new object was previously also attributed to this archaeological culture.
According to Polish archaeologists, the settlement is extremely interesting, since it includes at least four towers: three round and one corner. One of the round towers was not visible on the surface, despite its large size – up to 20 meters in diameter; it was discovered only during excavations. In general, the culture of Umm al-Nar is characterized by such large stone buildings, similar to towers: several hundred have already been found. Some are collective burials. The functions of others are not entirely clear, and there is no indication that they were used as living quarters.
In addition, the researchers found evidence of copper processing at the site, as well as some copper objects. This shows that the settlement was involved in the lucrative copper trade for which Oman was famous at the time: references to Omani copper appear in cuneiform texts from geographically close ancient Mesopotamia.
But perhaps one of the most interesting finds in the excavations around Ain Bani Saada is a board game made of stone. The playing field is marked with squares, each of which has a central recess. There are at least 13 squares, but part of the found board is broken off, so there could be more of them. Bones or stones that replace chips have not yet been found. Therefore, one can only guess what kind of game it is.
Archaeologists say that this is a similarity to the royal game of Ur – an ancient board game, the appearance of which historians date back to the 3rd millennium BC. Findings of playing fields for it were made in Mesopotamia, and the rules are known to us thanks to Babylonian clay tablets. This is a game for two people, similar to modern backgammon. It is interesting that the first royal game, found in the first half of the 20th century by the English archaeologist Leonard Woolley, during excavations of the royal burial in Ur, dates back to approximately the same time as the stone playing field that has now been discovered.
It should be noted that archaeologists have unearthed layers belonging to at least five different archaeological periods. They found traces of people from the late Neolithic period (4300-4000 BC), the Umm al-Nar culture of the Bronze Age (2600-2000 BC) and the Iron Age (1100-600 BC). In addition, there are finds dated to around the beginning of the 1st millennium AD (they have not yet been attributed), the ruins of a settlement of the early Islamic period, standing on top of earlier remains. Such an abundance of traces of settlements proves that this valley was an important place for people at various times.
And it is not surprising, because the coastal strip of Oman is one of the main ways for the settlement of people from Africa to South and Southeast Asia. But if we are talking about the culture of Umm al-Nar, then we cannot fail to mention the mysterious kingdom of Magan, which historians are increasingly localizing in Oman. We know about it from Mesopotamian sources, and it is described as an extremely developed state. It is mentioned that Magan traded with the Sumerians and Mellukha (presumably located in Western India). Also, this state is known as a source of copper (we said above about the found evidence of smelting) and diorite – a coarse-grained igneous rock consisting of basalt and granite. It is on the diorite stele that the main text of the Code of Hammurabi is carved.