Here's a very cool archeological finding in Azerbaijan. It's a copy of the ancient game called 58 Holes or Hounds and Jackals today. This instance of the game appears to be about 4000 years old. An example of the game was found earlier in the tomb Egyptian Pharaoh Amenemhat IV from 1800 BCE. So the game was apparently a popular one, as it obviously spread around the ancient world throughout the Middle East.
No one is exactly sure what the rules were, but it appears to have been some sort of racing game with markers moving around a track. It looks somewhat like backgammon, although it has no real relationship to that game. Backgammon comes from a Roman game much later on.
I like what Walter Crist has to say about the role of games in society:
"People are using the games to interact with one another," he said. Games were "kind of a uniquely human thing, kind of an abstraction — moving stones in blank spaces on the ground has no real effect on your daily life, except for the fact that it helps you interact with another person.
"So, a game is a tool for interaction, kind of like language — a shared way of being able to interact with people," Crist said.
Check out the article here.