Researchers aim to resurrect the 5,000-year old board game – Royal Game of Ur

game of urCredit: British Museum

Alluding to the ‘fun’ side of history, researchers at the University of Raparin, based in Ranya, Kurdistan, are looking forth to bring a mysterious 5,000-year old board game back into vogue. We are talking about the enigmatic Royal Game of Ur (also known as The Game of Twenty Squares), a board game that came into prominence all across ancient Mesopotamia by the late 3rd millennium BC (circa 3000 – 2600 BC). Incidentally, Mesopotamia might have been the very origin place of board games, with the oldest known archaeological evidence of a board game coming from 49 small carved painted stones that were discovered inside a burial mound at Başur Höyük, in southeast Turkey (traditionally, the northern extent of Mesopotamia), dated from circa 5000 BC. Experts have also found similar pieces in both Iraq and Syria, thus alluding to the prevalence of some rudimentary form of a board game that was played by the inhabitants of Mesopotamia, almost 7,000 years ago.

Reverting to the Royal Game of Ur, this particular game has a fascinating history, since, despite its popularity in the ancient Near East, the leisure-based system was all but forgotten – until the discovery of pertinent boards in 1922, made by Sir Leonard Wooley’s excavations at the Royal Cemetery at Ur (modern day Iraq). More boards were found in the following decades, while Dr. Irving Finkel successfully translated the rules of the game in the 80s. Pertaining to the latter, this was how the game was played (sourced from Kurdistan 24) –

The game is a race between two players who roll tetrahedral dice and move their seven pieces through the various squares. The objective is to move each piece to the endpoint. If one player’s piece lands on their opponent’s, the latter piece is sent back to the beginning.

 
As for the ‘resurrection’ of the Royal Game of Ur, the aforementioned research team at the University of Raparin, headed by English lecturer and archaeologist Ashley Barlow, plans to reintroduce this ancient board game to the segments of present-day Kurdistan and southern Iraq – the core regions that once defined Mesopotamia, the cradle of human civilization. Barlow explained –

We will train our students how to play, and ask them to go into the tea houses across the Bazaar to explain and show the local community. We would love to make this a national tournament that brings people together. The idea is to build on an identity that does not revolve around tragedy and grievance, instead, looking to a shared ancient past that can be seen through artwork and locally made products.

Their endeavor aptly called the Game of Ur project, will focus on the experience gained by the college students when it comes to design and marketing that could create awareness (and long-term profitability) based on the intriguing nature of the ancient board game itself. Furthermore, the business side of affairs will be complemented by the cultural heritage that is associated with the regions and their connected history. And lastly, the good news for the researchers is that the University of Sulaimani (one of the most important scientific and cultural centers in Kurdistan) and the British Council have already endorsed the Game of Ur project.

game of ur_1

Credit: British Museum

Source: Kurdistan 24

Video Source/ Image Credits: British Museum

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About the Author

Dattatreya Mandal
Dattatreya Mandal has a bachelor's degree in Architecture (and associated History of Architecture) and a fervent interest in History. Formerly, one of the co-owners of an online architectural digest, he is currently the founder/editor of Realmofhistory.com. The latter is envisaged as an online compendium that mirrors his enthusiasm for ancient history, military, mythology, and historical evolution of architecture.
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