A 4,000-Year-Old Bronze Age Game Called 58 Holes Has Been Discovered In Azerbaijan Rock Shelter

Archaeologists at the Gobustan Reserve have recently made the surprising and exciting discovery of a Bronze Age game that is known as 58 Holes or Hounds and Jackals, which was found hidden in a rock shelter in Azerbaijan, where it has remained for the past 4,000 years.

According to Science News, 58 Holes was a popular Bronze Age game which is believed to have existed in Egypt, Mesopotamia and far-flung Near Eastern locations. It was archaeologist Walter Crist, an expert on ancient games, who was recently asked to verify the discovery of the 58 Holes game in Azerbaijan and on November 15 he took part in the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and discussed this 4,000-year-old game.

The former Soviet republic country of Azerbaijan, where the ancient game was found, is located between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains and is approximately 1,000 miles away from the Near East. Crist explained that herders who lived during Bronze Age times almost certainly would have come into contact with those who lived in the Near East and that the teaching and playing of games like 58 Holes would have helped to have brought these people together socially.

"Bronze Age herders in that region must have had contacts with the Near Eastern world. Ancient games often passed across cultures and acted as a social lubricant."
Crist also described how he had spent time looking online for representations of 58 Holes and believed he had finally discovered a layout of the game from a photograph that had been taken in a rock shelter somewhere in Azerbaijan and published by the online publication Azerbaijan International. Fortunately for Crist, he had archaeologist contacts available in the country who arranged for him to visit the location that had been pictured.

Unfortunately, upon his arrival at the Azerbaijan site the archaeologist found that the area had been firmly bulldozed to put up a housing development and it appeared that the Bronze Age game may have been lost forever. However, an official from Azerbaijan alerted him to a different rock shelter with the same intricate dot patterns that archaeologists from the Gobustan Reserve had discovered. As it happily turned out, after Crist examined the site he was able to verify that this rock shelter did indeed have the Bronze Age game 58 Holes carved into it.

The game itself has dots that are placed in two central rows with further dots in two other rows that meander back in to eventually connect up with a dot that is directly above the first two central rows. As the name of the game would imply, while the number of dots can certainly be different, it is generally 58. It is believed that those who played this game had either pebbles or another form of dice that they would have used to try to reach the uppermost dot.

It is thought that the 4,000-year-old Bronze Age game of 58 Holes that was found in the rock-shelter in Azerbaijan may have been part of the inspiration for Backgammon.