Intricately carved tokens from a nearly 5,000-year old board game have been unearthed in southeast Turkey, reports Discovery News. The 49 found pieces may be the oldest gaming tokens ever recovered, and they should help to back the current theory that board games originated in the Middle East over five millennia ago. "Some [tokens] depict pigs, dogs, and pyramids, others feature round and bullet shapes," Haluk Sağlamtimur, a researcher with Ege University who helped to uncover the tokens, tells Discovery. The researchers also found dice and circular tokens among the pieces, which were painted in colors including black, blue, green, red, and white.
The tokens were found at Başur Höyük, a burial plot in Turkey. In the past, similar pieces have been found in both Syria and Iraq, but not as part of a set. "They were found as isolated, single objects," Sağlamtimur tells Discovery. "Our gaming pieces were found all together in the same cluster. It's a unique finding, a rather complete set of a chess-like game. We are puzzling over its strategy."
The researchers don't have the game's rules figured out just yet, but they hypothesize that it was in some way based around the number four. According to Discovery, the game pieces were found at the plots alongside thousands of beads, painted pottery, a bronze spearhead, and other artifacts. Archaeologists have previously unearthed other board games from around the same time period, including a 60-piece backgammon set, Senet, and the Royal Game of Ur. Even if the researchers can't recreate the new game just yet, Discovery notes that their finding could represent the period's most elaborate game pieces ever found.
No word on whether there were nearby cave drawing arguing for the preference of abstract symbols over 'realistic' carved figures.