CLOSE

11 Ancient Board Games

Some of these games have been around for over 4000 years, and although some have disappeared from history, archaeologists have worked tirelessly to discover the rules.

1. Senet

Hieroglyphs depicting Egyptian Senet players date all the way back to 3100 BCE. Even King Tut had a copy—it spent around three millennia lingering in his tomb before modern archaeologists got their hands on it.

2. Latrunculi (or “Mercenaries”)

One might call this Rome’s answer to chess: The elegant strategy game required armies of black and white pieces to duke it out across boards made with wood, marble, stone, or silver.

3. The Royal Game of Ur

Ur (aka: “The Game of Twenty Squares”) has been around since at least 3000 BCE and took hold in ancient societies from Egypt to India. Try it out for yourself with the British Museum’s free shockwave version. Fair warning: it’s way more addictive than solitaire!  

4. Patolli

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Throughout the Aztec empire, noble families and peasants alike were known to relish patolli. Participants threw dotted stones or beans to determine how their pieces would move over a cross-shaped board. Gambling was usually involved.

5. Mehen

rob koopman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Experts aren’t sure what the object of this ancient Egyptian game was, but, in any event, it involved a board shaped like a coiled snake. Marbles may have also been involved.  

6. Petteia

Think checkers, except instead of eliminating an opponent’s piece by leaping over it, you’d sandwich it between two of yours. A staple in ancient Greece, Petteia parables proved irresistible to many great thinkers. Take, for instance, Aristotle, who claimed that “a citizen without a state may be compared to an isolated piece in a game of petteia.”

7. Go

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This one is still very much alive and kicking. Go likely originated in China between 2500 and 4000 years ago (Confucius himself even wrote of it). Fast-forward to the present age, in which the American Go Association’s e-journal reached 13,000 subscribers as recently as 2011. Now that’s longevity!

8. Duodecem Scripta

An ancient Roman duodecem scripta table can be seen in Turkey’s Ephesus Museum. Unfortunately, the instruction manual is nowhere to be found, and nobody knows exactly how it was played. 

9. Unidentified Turkish Game

In 2013, archaeologists unearthed what have been described as 49 “board game tokens” from a grave site dating back to 2900 BCE. According to Ege University’s Haluk Sağlamtimur, who ran the dig, “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.” (He adds that his team is still “puzzling over its strategy.”)

10. Mancala

Adam Cohn, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Egyptians might have enjoyed a primitive version of mancala as far back as 1000 BCE. Back then, it was likely played on surfaces made with stone or ivory. Today’s enthusiasts, in contrast, largely prefer wood.

11. Terni Lapilli

iStock

Terni Lapilli boards were akin to tic-tac-toe grids and a fairly common sight during the Roman Empire.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Cell Free Technology
arrow
technology
This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
arrow
science
Play a Game to Help Scientists Defeat a Cancer-Causing Toxin
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images

If you're used to fighting virtual zombies or flying spaceships on your computer, a new series of games available on Foldit may sound a little unconventional. The object of the Aflatoxin Challenge is to rearrange protein structures and create new enzymes. But its impact on the real world could make it the most important game you've ever played: The scientists behind it hope it will lead to a new way to fight one of the most ruthless causes of liver cancer.

As Fast Company reports, the citizen science project is a collaboration between Mars, Inc. and U.C. Davis, the University of Washington, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The team's online puzzles, which debuted on Foldit earlier this month, invite the public to create a new enzyme capable of finding and destroying carcinogens known as aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins form when certain fungi grow on crops like corn, nuts, and grains. Developing countries often don't have the resources to detect it in food, leaving around 4.5 billion people vulnerable to it. When people do eat food with high aflatoxin levels unknowingly, they can contract liver cancer. Roughly a quarter of all liver cancer cases around the world can be traced back to aflatoxin exposure.

The toxin's connection to agriculture is why the food giant Mars is so interested in fighting it. By working on a way to stop aflatoxins on a molecular level, the company could prevent its spread more efficiently than they would with less direct methods like planting drought-resistant crops or removing mold by hand.

The easiest way for scientists to eradicate an aflatoxin before it causes real harm is by making an enzyme that does the work for them. With the Aflatoxin Challenge, the hope is that by manipulating protein structures, online players will come up with an enzyme that attacks aflatoxins at a susceptible portion of their molecular structure called a lactone ring. Destroying the lactone ring makes aflatoxin much less toxic and essentially safe to eat.

The University of Washington launched Foldit in 2008. Since then, the online puzzle platform has been used to study a wide range of diseases including AIDS and Chikungunya. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Foldit's new aflatoxin project for the next several weeks or so, after which scientists will synthesize genes based on the most impressive results to be used in future studies.

[h/t Fast Company]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios