Rare 4,000-year-old board game found in Oman

The game's discovery proves that such entertainment was available for lower social classes as well as rulers.

It has lain undiscovered – and unplayed – for around 4,000 years. But now a rare and ancient board game has been found in Oman.

Archaeologists made the discovery during excavations of Bronze and Iron Age settlements near the village of Ayn Bani Saidah in the Qumayrah Valley, which lies in the north of the country.

The stone board game. Image: J. Śliwa/PCMA UW.
The stone board game, found in the remains of a large building. Image: J. Śliwa/PCMA UW.

According to the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, whose researchers made the find, the stone board game was discovered among the remains of a room in a large building from the Umm an-Nar period, dating back to 2500 – 2000 BC.

Despite its rarity, the game is not a luxury item, and its discovery instead proves that such entertainment was available for lower social classes as well as rulers. Other examples of similar games have previously been uncovered in India, Mesopotamia, and the Eastern Mediterranean Basin.

The village of Aynn Bani Saidah was located at a junction of routes connecting various archaeological sites across the country, including Bat in the south, Buraimi and Al-Ayn in the north (which are UNESCO World Heritage sites today), and the country’s eastern coast.

Jakub Sliwa Excavation of the Iron and Bronze Age remains. Work first began at the site in 2015. Image: J. Śliwa/PCMA UW.

Elsewhere on the site, researchers found evidence of copper processing, suggesting the settlement participated in the lucrative copper trade for which Oman was then renowned.

Work began there in 2015, with the valley proving to be rich in artefacts. As the project’s joint leader, Professor Piotr Bieliński of the University of Warsaw, said: ‘This abundance of traces of settlement from various periods shows that this valley was an important place in prehistory, and perhaps also the history of Oman.’