Game-tokens found in 5,000-year-old burial mound


nice D4s!


Pass the Ancient Pigs, anyone?

Wasn’t there a game of some sorts only, or mainly used D4s? I’m sure I remember one. T&T?

The knobby D6 in the middle is actually the best part.

Even before the dawn of the Iron Age nobody wanted to be the Iron.



This is very cute, but (as in all failed satire) I can’t tell if the authors actually believe this, or are pulling our legs.

The GAME our distant ancestors played was “merchantile commerce”, played in the flesh with real caravans of sheep, ores, humans, lumber, textiles, etc.

Those tokens have already been researched as the prototype for cuneiform writing. They are, indirectly, the ancestors of our alphabet A,B,C, etc. A started as a little Ox head (since rotated to stand on its horns). B as a little house (“basa” iirc), C as a little Camel, etc.

Ancient merchants exchanged ownership by passing around these tokens in little bags. Eventually the bags converted to clay pouches, with a copy of the tokens stamped on the outside. And those stamps lead to written language.

Pen Bird - do you have any references or good search terms for that? I’ve never heard of miniature tokens of ownership before and I’m interested.

I love this story and was looking for an excuse to post it here. So thanks. Nothing, for me, shows how slow we are to see the obvious when it is unfamiliar than the story of written language emerging from recording the contents of a package of tokens on the outside of the package. Eventually the tokens were dispensed with! It is an amazing thing, to me.

I remember reading about them a long, long time ago, back when humans communicated by impressing thin sheets of processed plant fiber with black ink. These web pages look like what I read:

Actually, it was the 1977 Scientific American article cited here:

I have always wanted to learn Linear Cuneiform B in college, but I was afraid that they would have some silly prerequisite first, such as Linear Cuneiform A.


This citation is in PDF format, so it must be authoritative!

Reading the original website (gotta keep reminding ourselves BB is just an aggregator, guys!), it seems these could indeed be game tokens. Counting tokens were cheap abstract clay; these are instead engraved colored representational gem-stones. And, of course, the truth could also be somewhere in between!

Indeed! The dawn of history must have been a fun and terrifying place to operate. Money and game tokens could be linked, and jewelry and tschotchkes in general. Sometimes they call them religious, sometimes toys, why couldn’t they be just pleasant things to have around? ( I am speaking a bit more broadly now . . . ) I imagine the purpose evolving and just popping between uses now and then while social standards were evolving. The same object could be a religious icon to the user and more or less cash to its maker. The present system is only a slight modification.

( I am content to speculate. The academic tendency to nail things down doesn’t jibe with my experience. Though I realize the “economy” of such a system (academia) forces such confidence even when there is really no need to be so sure. Am I to read between the lines or are they really all dunces?)


Incidentally, Those tetra-hedral shapes, three sided pyramids, are what you get when you squeeze a bit of clay in the space between the thumb and first finger of both hands. The result is slightly concave, but can be easily manipulated to be a nice shape like those. I have many in various sizes up to a few inches across. They are sort of a natural byproduct of clay and nervous hands. I have a lot of little objects that came from just having left overs of epoxy putty or sculpey. Many would appear to be matched sets. I have a few sets of nautilus shapes in different sizes and materials for similar reasons.

I offer this as suggestion that these could have a similar origin. Unless they were widespread, of course.

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I dunno. Whatever these little things were actually for, I find their painstakingly almost-uniform shapes to be extremely satisfying. Truly, a “pleasing effect to the eye”!

I thought it looked like a d8, worn smooth by thousands of… whatever the hell d8 was for. Clerics? Thieves?

whatever the hell d8 was for

Damage from long sword attacks.

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This is obviously a game of Thud.

Another explanation, because this was a burial tomb, and royalty always tries to “take it with them”:

The figures could represent clay barter tokens upgraded to gems, to qualify as wealth in the afterlife. The departing soul would expect to then redeem them for the real thing, in Heaven, much as mortal merchants would redeem their tokens for real wares on Earth.

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Penbird - thanks for the links. Look forward to reading them.