60-Second Science

Ancient People Played Lots of Games

In the study of a major city in ancient Pakistan, one of every 10 finds is related to playing games. Cynthia Graber reports

Many of us have plenty of leisure time to devote to trying out the latest Wii game or even watching others play poker on TV. But this focus on play is nothing new, says a researcher at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.

For her doctoral thesis, Elke Rogersdotter studied a 4,000-year-old city called Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley, in what is now Pakistan. ["Gaming in Mohenjo-daro—an Archaeology of Unities"] It was the largest Bronze Age urban settlement in the region, thriving at the same time as the ancient Egyptian Middle Kingdom.

Play is not generally studied for its significance to ancient peoples. Rogersdotter says that archaeologists do often find game-related relics at dig sites, but they’re usually discounted as unimportant or considered a ritual object. But at this site, almost every tenth find was related to leisure—dice or gaming pieces.

And they’re not uniformly scattered. The artifacts are clustered together in what might have been ancient, say, gaming halls or courtyards. Rogersdotter says that these games may have had real social significance and might be used to give us a better view of the lives of these Bronze Age individuals. Who very well might have hoped to roll double-sixes four millennia ago.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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