Ancient Game Die Discovered

From the Second Temple Period, the cube was found at Khirbet Kfar Mor in Beit El

Second Temple Period Game Die

Photo: Spokesman. Civil Administration

For almost two hundred years, Beit El has been claimed by some scholars as the site of biblical Bethel, where in the Bible, Jacob dreamed of his famous ladder (Genesis 28:19). The ongoing Khirbet Kfar Mor excavations there have uncovered a rare Second Temple Period gaming die.

Games have been a part of civilization for a long time, possibly as long as civilization itself. Games of sport in the ancient Hellenic world inspired the modern Olympics. As Stephen G. Miller explains in “The Other Games: When Greeks Flocked to Nemea” (Archaeology Odyssey, July/Aug 2004), “The sanctuary at Olympia was only one of four sites where games were held. Greeks also flocked to games at Delphi, Isthmia and Nemea.” Games were so important that truce protected the audience as they traveled to watch. Each site awarded a different crown, “Olive at Olympia, laurel at Delphi, pine at Isthmia and wild celery at Nemea.” Circuit-victors were those who collected all four.

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Drinking games have also been discovered. At what might have been biblical Bethsaida  (“Searching for Bethsaida: The Case for et-TellBiblical Archaeology Review, Spring 2020), excavators discovered the Greek drinking game kottobas represented on an ancient potsherd. “In this game, the participants, reclining on their couches, competed by throwing wine at a plate situated on a pole and causing it to fall and break,” writes et-Tell Dig Director Rami Arav.

Game of 30 Squares

Courtesy Tell es-Safi/Gath

And of course, there have been board games discovered from the ancient Levant. As we covered in an article, “Archaeological Views: Board Games in Biblical Gath” (Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct 2017), “…board games enjoyed popularity among all social strata of ancient societies in Canaan.” The Game of 30 Squares was the most common game of Bronze Age Canaan. It’s a travel game, won by getting a piece through all the squares to the end of the path. 3o Squares boards were found in Bronze Age Tell es-Safi (biblical Gath), about 5,000 years old.

At Khirbet Kfar Mor, excavations are showing the every day life of Jewish villagers from 2,000-2,500 years ago. The die is the first evidence of gaming that the Civil Administration has uncovered, but there may well be more to discover. Whether the die was used in a game of drinking, with a board game, or on its own, it was probably used for fun and relaxation. Wherever they gather, humans do like to play.

Read more in Bible History Daily:

Ancient Games. Turkish archaeologists working on a 5,000-year-old burial uncovered early evidence of an unexpected type of tradition: games.

Board Games Were Status Symbols in the Ancient World. In the ancient world, board games, one of the world’s oldest hobbies, were played not only to pass the time, but also to signify the wealth and status of the players, according to a new study. Mark Hall, an historian with the Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland, believes…

Ancient Board Games. Archaeologists have uncovered over 25 inscriptions in Jerusalem’s Old City alone that served as public boards for ancient games.

What Were the Ancient Olympics Like?. Beginning in 776 B.C. as a simple foot race, the quadrennial Olympic Games grew—during a span of 1,200 years—into the most prestigious athletic/religious festival of the Greek-speaking world.

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