Last year, in celebration of International Tabletop Day, the British Museum did several videos of Merlin the Magician, er... Irving Finkel, the Assistant Curator of Ancient Mesopotamian script, talking about and playing The Royal Game of Ur, an over 4-millennium-old game from Mesopotamia.
Finkel has spent the lion's share of his life trying to decipher the history and rules of this ancient, 2-person racing game. The museum had a copy of the board (which Finkel made a replica of as a child), but had no idea which rules set went with it. Fortuitously, among the museum's 3500 clay tablets, Finkel eventually managed to uncover an analysis of the game, written by a Mesopotamian astronomer, and from there was able to reverse engineer the rules (and matched the rules to the mysterious gameboard artifact in the museum's collection).
There are some interesting mechanics here, including using 4-sided dice that have two white tips. An upright white tip counts as a 1. The Royal Game of Ur looks really fun, and surprisingly exciting to play. Finkel points out that it's the kind of game that, when one player falls behind the other, it actually gives them a momentary advantage and that creates a kind of back and forth, quickly changing fortunes dynamic that makes for a tense game. Finkel also points out that the original board had a built-in drawer to house the dice and playing pieces, a design that's still used in chess and other boards over 4,000 years later. Read the rest
Foundations of the Curtain Theater, where Shakespeare performed early in his stage career, were uncovered by developers in Shoreditch, London. And they come with a surprise: they're rectangular, not the expected oval shape.
“There is going to have to be a certain amount of revision of the chapter on The Curtain in my book,” Bowsher said. “It now seems clear that the playhouse was a conversion of an earlier tenement – essentially a block of flats – and was later converted back into a tenement again.
“There’s been a lot of scholarly argument about the shape of Tudor theatres, but the evidence from actors is that it made no difference to the performance of the plays, you could ask them to stand on a chair and they’d just get on and do it.”
The Curtain was first found in 2012, and plans for a Shakespeare museum unveiled shortly thereafter, with the ruins encased under a huge transparent glass stage. Other finds on the site include a green eggcup, a broken comb, and a report of a cutpurse's arrest. Read the rest
The ancient neolithic tomb pictured above was destroyed and replaced by the monolothic concrete park bench pictured below. Read the rest
A restaurateur in Lecce, Italy dug up the plumbing for his perennially blocked toilets and discovered thousands of years' worth of tunnels beneath the building, including a Messapian tomb. Read the rest
Miguel writes, "I tried to replicate an ancient Egyptian bread, starting with the right kind of wheat, the grinding and the baking... I also made a modernized version inspired by Egypt." Read the rest
In Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 AD, published in 2011 in Early Medieval Europe 19/3, Medievalists from the University of Western Australia survey the remains of fallen Vikings found in eastern England that had been assumed to be male, partly because some were buried with sword and shield. Read the rest
California state park archaeologists excavated the burned and buried record collection of The Chosen Family, a former 1960s commune in Marin County, and were surprised that the musical tastes of the hippies living there weren't what you'd expect. From Western Digs:
Instead of The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, (archaeologist E. Breck Parkman) said, he found Judy Garland, Burl Ives, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme.
Rather than the voices of counterculture, he uncovered scores of albums of classic jazz, folk, show tunes, even comedy.
"The wide range of musical styles represented by this 'hippie discography' suggests that the people who came together to form this 'hippie' commune had a wide range of backgrounds, including their musical tastes," Parkman said.
"Vinyl Records Excavated at Famous ’60s Commune Challenge ‘Hippie’ Stereotype, Study Says" (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)
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Oxford University academic Dr Stephanie Dalley believes she has identified the precise location of the fabled Hanging Gardens of Bablyon: near Nineveh, hundreds of miles north. Dalley's hypothesis has the gardens built not by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, but by Assyrians under Sennacherib about 2,700 years ago. Nineveh's ruins now lie on the city limits of modern-day Mosul. Read the rest
NeilWalker sez, "The the Archaeological Survey of India discovered a mysterious hidden room while restoring the Indian National Library in Alipore. They know the room is large, around 1000 square feet, but can't find a way in. What's inside? Theories so far include skeletons (it was common practice among the British to 'wall up' offenders in 'death chambers' - lovely) or hidden treasures (the British were known to hide treasures in so called 'blind chambers'). My guess? Dust and stuff!"
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"We've searched every inch of the first floor area that forms the ceiling of this enclosure for a possible trap door. But found nothing. Restoration of the building will remain incomplete if we are not able to assess what lies inside this enclosure," said deputy superintending archaeologist of ASI, Tapan Bhattacharya. "We've come across an arch on one side of the enclosure that had been walled up. Naturally speculations are rife," said another archaeologist.
Was it used as a punishment room by Hastings or one of the Lt Governors who succeeded him? It was common practice among the British to "wall up" offenders in "death chambers". Some sources say this enclosure has exactly the same look and feel. The British were also known to hide riches in blind chambers as this.
"It could be just about anything. Skeletons and treasure chests are the two things that top our speculations because it is not natural for a building to have such a huge enclosure that has no opening. We cannot break down a wall, considering the importance of the building.