Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Royal Game of Ur, plus: Mice on drugs

Board games seem simple and obvious enough that you might think people have been playing them for a long time. And you'd be right. The oldest known is the Royal Game of Ur, one of the capitals of Sumer, in ancient Mesopotamia, starting from about 2600 BCE. The paraphernalia of the game were discovered decades before the rules were reconstructed. But they have been, and you can even play it online. (Warning: this site requires the Shockwave plug-in.) The British Museum sells a real-space version of the game as well (click on picture).

The weird thing is that the last known living variant of this game was played until recently by the Cochin Jews, of Cochin, India. They mostly live in Israel now. Evidently, they brought it with them when they moved from Mesopotamia (the Babylonian exile) to India. Some came with Alexander the Great (around 330 BCE); others later with the Muslims around the year 1000, or with the British, in the 19th century.

Meantime, in Israel, another ancient phenomenon, frankincense, has been investigated, not only as a spice and incense, but as a drug. Inhale enough of it, or drink the resin, and you get very calm and a little confused, but happy-confused. Now mice at the Hebrew University are testing and apparently liking it.

Frankincense might even be used some day as an antidepressant. It was once used as an incense in many ancient and not-so-ancient temples, evidently for good reason.

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At 5:40 PM, Blogger hector said...

we want to learn how to play


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