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Mystery Surrounds Ancient Board Game Discovered In China

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Chinese archaeologists recently discovered pieces from a board game last played fifteen centuries ago. According to a report in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics, the game is called “bo” or “liubo”, and the pieces were found in a massive tomb near Qingzhou City that dates back to around 300 BC.

14 sided ancient Chinese board game die
(image via Chinese Cultural Relics)

The pieces found include a 14-sided die made from an animal tooth. The numbers 1 through 6 appear twice each on the die, while two other sides remain blank. The numbers are written in “seal script,” an ancient Chinese form of writing.

Archaeologists also found 21 rectangular pieces with numbers painted on them, and a broken game board consisting of a tile “decorated with two eyes, which are surrounded by cloud-and-thunder patterns.”

Archaeologists are unsure how the game was actually played, but a 2,200 year-old poem by Song Yu gives some basics: “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.”

The pieces were discovered in a 330-foot long tomb. China had not yet unified at the time the tomb was built, but researchers believe it was built for aristocrats from the state of Qi, not long before it was conquered by the competing state of Qin.

Archaeologists began excavating the tomb over a decade ago and released their findings last year in Chinese journal Wenwu. The grave had been largely looted. “The coffin chamber was almost completely dug out and robbed,” the report says, “suffering severe damage in the process.” Interestingly, one of the grave robbers seems to have died in the tomb, as well.

Previously Published December 7, 2015.


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