In a 2,300-year-old tomb near Qingzhou City in China, archaeologists have found pieces of a board game that hasn’t been played for 1,500 years. The tomb, which has been heavily robbed, had a skeleton in a shaft within the tomb, who is suspected to be one of the grave robbers.
— Live Science (@LiveScience) November 16, 2015
The 14-faced die — made from the tooth of an animal — is numbered from one to six in an ancient Chinese writing known as “seal script.” Each number has been used twice, with the remaining two faces left blank, the researchers noted.
Archaeologists found a broken tile believed to be part of the board game. After the tile was reconstructed, it was found to be “decorated with two eyes surrounded by cloud-and-thunder patterns.” Twenty-one rectangular game pieces with numbers painted on them were also found, the archaeologists wrote in a report that has been published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.
Researchers believe that the artifacts belong to a lost game called “liubo” — also called “bo” — which is a mysterious board game, and they are uncertain exactly how it was played. Although, according to Scientific American, a poem that was written about 2,200 years ago by Song Yu gives some insight:
“Then, with bamboo die and ivory pieces, the game of “Liubo” 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.”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art writes that “Liubo” was a popular game in ancient China during the Han Dynasty. It was the most popular board game in the imperial court and in common circles. The game had many playing pieces, which included dice, chess pieces, a square board, and even cutting and scraping knives, according to Ancient Origins.
Even though they don’t exactly know how it was played, with the discovery of the board, its pieces, and images of people playing, the basics of the game are known. It is believed that each player moved six game pieces around the square board, and movements were determined by the roll of sticks or a die.
According to MetMuseum.org: “The historian, Sima Qian, (ca. 145–86 B.C.) tells a legend of a Shang Dynasty (1600–1100 B.C.) emperor who forced his subjects to play “liubo” using pieces shaped like the gods. Not daring to overcome the emperor, his opponents would let him win, and the emperor then declared he was victorious over the gods themselves.”
The tomb has two large ramps that lead to a staircase, which then descends into the burial chamber. There are five pits that hold the grave goods for the deceased, which are located beside the tomb. The tomb is about 330 feet (100 meters) long, and would have been covered with a burial mound. When the tomb was constructed, China was divided into several states that fought against each other.
The archaeologists believe that this tomb was built to bury aristocrats from the state of Qi. This was an ancient state in China that was conquered by the first emperor of China in 221 B.C. The archaeologists wrote: “Despite the huge scale of the tomb, it has been thoroughly robbed.
“The coffin chamber was almost completely dug out and robbed, suffering severe damage in the process.”
Looters dug a total of 26 shafts into the tomb, and one shaft “yielded a curled-up human skeleton, which might be the remains of one of the tomb robbers,” wrote the archaeologists. But they noted that they don’t know when this person died, why he or she was buried in the looting shaft, or the person’s age or sex.