Strange Games: some Iron Age examples of a four-player board game?

Duggan, Eddie (2014) Strange Games: some Iron Age examples of a four-player board game? In: From Cardboard to Keyboard, XVII Annual International Board Game Studies Colloquium, 20–24 May 2014, UCS Ipswich UK.

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A late Iron Age cremation grave, dated to the second half of the first century BC, excavated from a site in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, contains an apparently unique set of glass gaming pieces. The gaming pieces are visually striking because of their distinctive appearance: the twenty-four opaque or semi-translucent coloured glass domes (six white pieces, six yellow, six red and six green), each with adorned with decorative spiral motifs, seem to comprise a complete set of game pieces for what may be an unknown four-player game. They were found in a rich burial containing five Dressel 1B wine amphorae and an Italian silver cup, along with other grave goods.

Some account of the pieces is given by Donald Harden in Stead’s archaeological report (Stead, 1967), along with a scientific analysis by Tony Werner and Mavis Bimson, based on spectrographic and X-ray examination. While Harden’s account of the glass pieces emphasises their unique significance for the double-spiral motif, and Werner and Bimson’s analysis suggests the yellow pieces show the earliest example of the use of lead and tin as an opacifying agent, the pieces are also thought to represent a unique example of a game for four players, described by Stead as “similar to a game played in India on a board with cruciform marking. This game was […] patented with the name ‘ludo’” (Stead 1967, p. 19).

Footnotes in Stead suggest that other examples of what could also be glass gaming pieces for a four player game – or at least incomplete sets of glass gaming pieces that can be organised into four groups by design or colour – have also been found in a number of Italian locations, including sites in the Po Valley. This paper presents several examples of Iron Age Italian gaming pieces from the Po Valley, and offers some comparison to the Welwyn Garden City pieces in order to draw attention to what may be examples of a hitherto overlooked four-player game.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: games, Iron Age
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D051 Ancient History
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DE The Mediterranean Region. The Greco-Roman World
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure
T Technology > TT Handicrafts Arts and crafts
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Business & Applied Social Science > Department of Arts & Humanities
Depositing User: Eddie Duggan
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2020 10:03
Last Modified: 06 Feb 2020 10:03

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