Bronze Age stone game board found in Oman

A rare game board carved into stone has been discovered at a Bronze Age archaeological site near the village of Ayn Bani Saidah in Oman.

Archaeologists from the University of Warsaw’s Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology (PCMA UW) in collaboration with Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Tourism are excavating the Qumayrah Valley in the mountains of northern Oman to explore the remains of Bronze Age and Iron Age campsites, graves, dwellings and tower structures were identified there in previous surveys. The most recent fieldwork season, which concluded in December, unearthed a large building from the Umm an-Nar period (2500-2000 B.C.). Inside one of its rooms was the stone game board.

The board was engraved with a rectangular grid of two rows of seven surviving columns. Inside each square of the grid is a shallow cup-hole style depression. The stone is broken at one end, damaging the seventh square on the top row. Games boards of this type have been found at Bronze Age sites in India, Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean. They are extremely rare, and usually found at important economic centers.

“Ayn Bani Saidah is strategically located at a junction of routes connecting Bat in the south, Buraimi and Al-Ayn in the north, and the sea coast near Sohar in the east. Along this route there are some major sites from the Umm an-Nar period. So we hoped that also our site will be in the same league,” explains [PCMA UW archaeologist] Prof. Bieliński.

Latest discoveries prove the archaeologists right. “The settlement is exceptional for including at least four towers: three round ones and an angular one. One of the round towers had not been visible on the surface despite its large size of up to 20 m in diameter. It was only discovered during excavations,” says Dr. Agnieszka Pieńkowska of the PCMA UW who is analyzing the Bronze Age remains within the project. “The function of these prominent structures present at many Umm an-Nar sites still needs to be explained,” she adds.

But new discoveries have also been made in other Bronze Age buildings. “We finally found proof of copper working at the site, as well as some copper objects. This shows that our settlement participated in the lucrative copper trade for which Oman was famous at that time, with mentions of Omani copper present in the cuneiform texts from Mesopotamia,” says Prof. Bieliński.