Historic Egyptians took their board video games severely. The backgammonlike senet began out as a mere pastime, however over almost 2 millennia it developed right into a sport with deep hyperlinks to the afterlife, performed on a board that represented the underworld. Now, a model of the sport sitting in a California museum would possibly reveal when this dramatic transformation befell.
Senet most likely wasn’t the world’s first board sport, however it was one of many first to turn out to be a smash hit. It appears to have risen to reputation in all tiers of Egyptian society about 5000 years in the past—and was nonetheless being loved by Egyptians 2500 years later.
From snippets of historic texts, Egyptologists suspect senet was performed by two rivals, every with maybe 5 pawns that have been positioned on a grid of 30 squares organized in three rows of 10. Gamers threw an historic equal of gaming cube to ascertain what number of squares to maneuver certainly one of their pawns on a given flip. The pawns traveled proper alongside the higher row, then left alongside the center row, and proper alongside the decrease row to succeed in the end sq. (quantity 30) within the backside proper nook of the board.
Squares 26 to 29 have been embellished with symbols and appear to have held specific significance—maybe slightly just like the “miss a flip” or “roll a six” sq. on some fashionable sport boards. The primary participant to maneuver all 5 of their pawns to the end received.
There is no such thing as a proof that senet was something apart from a type of leisure on the time of its invention. However by about 4300 years in the past, Egyptian tomb artwork started to depict the tomb’s lifeless inhabitant taking part in senet towards dwelling pals and family members. Texts from the time counsel the sport had begun to be seen as a conduit by means of which the lifeless may talk with the dwelling.
Over the following millennium, Egyptian texts got here to explain the sport as reflecting the motion of the soul by means of the Egyptian realm of the lifeless—referred to as Duat—and towards the afterlife. And by about 3300 years in the past, the sport board itself had modified. Instead of three easy vertical strains on sq. 28 of early senet boards, for instance, some now had three hieroglyphic birds that Egyptians used to represent the soul. The board retained this symbolism for one more 800 years, till the sport fell out of vogue.
A senet board within the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California, would possibly present the earliest levels on this redesign. The board lacks the hieroglyphics symbolizing the soul, however sq. 27—which in earlier boards featured a easy X—now carries a hieroglyphic image for water. That is thought by archaeologists to point some type of lake or river the Egyptians believed the soul encountered on its journey by means of Duat.
“It could be one of many first instances that this side of the journey by means of the afterlife is visually rendered on the board,” says Walter Crist, an archaeologist at Maastricht College who describes the Rosicrucian board in a brand new paper in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology.
The age and archaeological context of the Rosicrucian board are unclear—the artifact might have been purchased on the antiquities market within the 19th century. But it surely has an uncommon reverse format, with the “begin” sq. within the backside the place the “end” sq. often is. Crist says this model is exclusive to Egypt’s Center Kingdom interval, between 4000 and 3700 years in the past. Given this uncommon format, and the not absolutely spiritual however not absolutely secular symbols on squares 26 to 29, Crist believes the Rosicrucian board is about 3500 years outdated.
Senet boards might have begun to tackle spiritual overtones at the very least 400 years earlier, in line with historic Egyptian texts. The gradual transformation from secular to non secular board suits with what we all know of the evolution of video games, which are likely to exhibit lengthy durations of stasis and sudden pulses of fast change, maybe over just some a long time, says Jelmer Eerkens, an archaeologist on the College of California, Davis. “That is in contrast to what we anticipate for different kinds of applied sciences,” Eerkens says. Cookery pot designs, for example, evolve extra step by step and steadily, he says.
Eerkens’s analysis suggests the Rosicrucian board is a uncommon discover as a result of it seems to chronicle this late-stage fast change in progress. It could seize the fleeting second that the senet board’s design first started betraying its function as the unique sport of dying.