A 14-face die for playing bo (all images courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics)

Ever wonder how people passed the time before Candy Crush or Fruit Ninja? Naturally, they also played games.

According to Live Science, archaeologists in China recently unearthed a 2,300-year-old board game called “bo” from a heavily looted tomb in Qingzhou City. It includes a 14-face die carved from an animal tooth, 21 rectangular game pieces featuring painted numbers, and a broken tile — “decorated with two eyes, which are surrounded by cloud-and-thunder patterns” — that once made up part of the game board. The finding was published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics, and its authors suggest that the game (and tomb) belonged to a wealthy inhabitant of Qi, an ancient state conquered by China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, in 221 BCE. 

People stopped playing bo some 1,500 years ago, so no one knows the rules of the game anymore. But a 2,200-year-old poem by a man named Song Yu makes it sound exciting:

Then with bamboo dice and ivory pieces the game of Liu Bo is begun; / Sides are taken; they advance together; keenly they threaten each other. / Pieces are kinged and the scoring doubled. Shouts of “five white!” arise.

Similar games have been found around the world. The ancient Egyptians played one called Senet that looks a bit like chess. The ancient Sumerians played the Royal Game of Ur, which was sort of like backgammon. Most recently, in 2013 archaeologists found 5,000-year-old board-game tokens at Başur Höyük, an archaeological site in southeast Turkey, that might be the oldest ones in existence. The 49 tokens were sculpted, much like those in Monopoly, to resemble objects including pyramids, pigs, dogs, and bullets.


Tile pieces


The pit where the game was found




Rendering of the game bo


Rendering of the die

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

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