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Senet in Egypt: 3000 BC

Games with pebbles, in spaces roughly drawn out on the ground, are a pleasant way of passing spare time - of which hunters and gatherers have more than one might imagine. In a settled community a flat and permanent surface is a clear improvement on the rough ground; and pleasantly carved pieces are much preferable to pebbles.

The development of board games is an inevitable part of human history. The earliest known example - the senet of the Egyptians - is being played by 3000 BC and is still popular in a recognizable form in Egypt 5000 years later. Beautifully made boards for senet and other such games (with built-in drawers for the pieces) survive from Egyptian tombs.

Backgammon in Mesopotamia: 2500 BC

Among the treasures found at ur is a board laid out as if for the game of backgammon - which remains to this day one of the most popular board games in the Middle East.

Like senet and other board games of antiquity (but unlike, chess, draughts or the Japanese game of go), backgammon involves a large element of luck - since the movement of the pieces along the board depends on the numbers thrown. At this period a number is established by throwing sticks and counting those which fall with a given side upwards. The more economical method of six-sided dice is developed by about 2000 BC.

Egyptian sports: from 2000 BC

Games of throwing and catching, or contests in running, jumping and fighting, are likely to be as old as humanity. But surviving traces of competitive sports are first found among the relics of settled communities.

Wall paintings in an Egyptian tomb at Beni Hasan, dating from about 1850 BC, include numerous pictures of wrestling with most of the holds and falls still used today. In the tomb of an Egyptian child, probably of a slightly earlier date, a set of skittles has been found which are no different in principle from ten-pin bowling. But not until the heyday of Greece does sport play the central role which it occupies in modern society.

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