• The Royal Game of Ur

    Board games were as popular in the ancient world as they are today.

    This is the Royal Game of Ur, a board game made between 2600 and 2400 BC. So it's at least 4,400 years old!

    It was found in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).

    In the 1920s, the British archaeologist Leonard Woolley was digging into the ruins of a long-buried royal city, and among many amazing treasures, he found several games. This is one of them.

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  • The Game of Twenty Squares

    Similar boards with 20 squares have been found at other ancient sites around the Mediterranean coast, in Egypt and in India.

    The 'Game of Twenty Squares' was a winner in royal palaces of the ancient world.

    This board was originally made of wood; though the wood has decayed, the hard decorative pattern of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli (a blueish mineral) survived. So it was possible to restore the board, to look as it did when the king and his family enjoyed games.

    The counters are from another board of similar age. Game boards were made hollow, so counters could be stored inside.

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  • Game play

    Five squares on the board have flower patterns, five have 'eyes', and five have circled dots. The remaining five squares have different patterns of five dots.

    The aim of the game was to race across the board (30 cm end to end) by moving counters across the squares.

    Players threw dice in turns, and only certain throws allowed a player to start a new counter on the board.

    Counters were made from shale (a rock that splits easily) and shell.

    We know a bit about the game from ancient writings, and a version was played in India until modern times; apparently the flower or 'rosette' squares were the best ones to land on.

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  • Sumer

    Ur was the royal city of the ancient kingdom of Sumer in Mesopotamia: the 'land between the rivers'. The rivers were the Tigris and Euphrates.

    When important people in Sumer died, they were buried in splendid tombs, along with their servants, gold and jewels, weapons, musical instruments, everything they might need in a life after death - including their favourite games.

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Fun Facts
  • The Sumerians invented a form of writing called 'cuneiform'. They wrote by pressing a wedge-tipped stick into wet clay.

  • The Sumerians had some of the world's first schools, where 'scribes' were taught to write.

  • The Sumerians liked to eat dates. Date palms grew alongside rivers and canals.

  • Sumerian farmers sowed seeds by machine. Two oxen pulled along a plough-like digger with a box and funnel to scatter the seeds into the soil.

  • Men and women in Sumer wore make-up, especially around their eyes.

  • Kings of Sumer wore false beards, to make them look wise and important.

  • Modern Iraq is rich in oil. The Sumerians used sticky oil called pitch to waterproof boats.

  • Sumerians liked proverbs or wise sayings, such as 'He who has nothing sleeps peacefully at night'.

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