02 - A Game Changer: Exploring Morphological and Distributional Patterns of the "Game of Twenty Squares" in Bronze Age Middle Asia


Rachele A. Bianchi, University of Toronto


The relevance of games, and in particular board games, extends much further than childhood. More recent work on games has expanded research questions to explore how these activities and objects can provide a more nuanced understanding of a multitude of topics, from negotiation of identity and social structure to dynamics of transmission and intercultural interaction.

In this poster I present some results from my 2014 honors bachelor’s project on Bronze Age board games found in Middle Asia, an area spanning between the eastern Mediterranean and the Indus Valley, from Central Asia in the north and the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea in the south. In particular, I focus on the “Game of Twenty Squares,” a game made famous as the “Royal Game of Ur” by the wooden and shell specimen beautifully inlaid with red limestone and lapis lazuli found in burial PG513 at Ur, Iraq.

Boards for this game display an evolution of the structure of the board over time from the third to the second millennium B.C.E., suggesting a correlated shift in gameplay. This change in structure and gameplay is accompanied by a shift in distribution toward western territories. I suggest that the increasing absence of similar gameboards in eastern territories as well as in the Arabian Peninsula should not be ascribed to a lack of interaction with these centers, but rather could be due to the perishable nature of the supports (gameboards) on which these games were played.

This poster presents the catalogue I created for these games, along with the highlighted geographic and chronological patterns. In doing so, it provides ground for further comparative analysis, as well as critical evaluation of the limits of the archaeological record.