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in our e-book     The Board Game on the  Phaistos Disk

by H. Peter Aleff

BOARD GAMES

Phaistos Disk Story

Summary of Volume One

Table of Contents

Riddle introduction

Translation examples

New perspective  >>>

Rosette symbolism

Rosette examples

Gameboard tracks

Heads on Disk

Philistine connection

Philistine fluted crown

Senet as key to Disk

Senet enduring magic

Calendar gameboards

Marks on Senet squares

Senet and Phaistos Disk

Metonic cycle on Disk

Command- Life- Down

T-shirt sign Tartarus

Preview Vol. 2

Reader responses

Game of the Goose
and Labyrinth

Goose Introduction
Riddle of Goose
Goose Game Rules
Labyrinth Riddle
Phaistos Disk Riddle
Labyrinth clues 1
Labyrinth clues 2
Labyrinth clues 3
Labyrinth rules 1
Labyrinth rules 2
Goose versus Disk
Solomon's Labyrinth 1
Solomon's Labyrinth 2

Quantumgame
Before Quantum
Quantum Now
Rules for Quantum
Quantum Responses
Quantum Reviews 1
Quantum Reviews 2
Quantum Reviews 3
Quantum Rewards
 


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Footnotes :

 

18 Edgar B. Pusch: "Das Senet-Brettspiel im Alten Ägypten", Deutscher Kunstverlag, Munich and Berlin, 1979, Volume 1:2; see Plate 82 for a well preserved board, now in the Norbert Schimmel Collection, New York, on which the last five squares bear ten deep and probably once inlaid impressions from nine or ten different stamps; Plates 65, 84, and 88 show other examples.

 

19 As reported by Erwin Glonnegger: "Das Spiele-Buch: Brett- und Legespiele aus aller Welt, Herkunft, Regeln, und Geschichte", Hugendubel Verlag, Ravensburg, 1988, page 40 top left.

 

20 Timothy Kendall "Passing through the Netherworld -- the meaning and play of Senet, an ancient Egyptian funerary game", Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Department of Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art, and KIrk Game Company, 1978, see page 3 of "Additional notes and comments".

 

21 Kendall "Passing through the Netherworld", cited above, see page 2 of "Additional notes and comments".

 

Picture credits:

 

Sumerian gameboard drawn from a photograph in "The First Cities" by Dora Jane Hamblin and editors, Time-Life Books, New York, 1973, page 119.

 

The Game of 20 Squares and its variants are redrawn from pictures in "Passing through the Netherworld: The meaning and play of Senet, an ancient Egyptian funerary game" by Timothy Kendall.

 

The Megiddo gameboard is redrawn from a photograph in Maitland A. Edey: "The Sea Traders", Time-Life Books, New York, 1974, page 90.

 

Gameboard from Ur, now in the University Museum of Penn- sylvania,  redrawn from the frontispiece picture on page xiv in H.J.R. Murray: "A History of Board Games other than Chess", Oxford, 1952, edition consulted Hacker Art Books, New York, 1978.

 

 

 

  

  Volume 1: its siblings Senet and Snake Game,

 

and its surviving sequel the Royal Game of the Goose   

 
 

You are on page

1.4. New perspective on the Disk

0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17   

Those experts may well be right for their field, but nothing says the Disk is a text or inscription. Only this unwarranted assumption makes it appear isolated. In modern terms, those looking for a text applied the wrong operating system for retrieving the information encoded on the Disk, or even for recognizing its existence.

Some of the symbols on the Disk, such as the bough or the mace or the rosette, were familiar to many people around the ancient Levant and had specific meanings in the intercultural koine or lingua franca of symbolic shorthand that people back then shared more widely than languages or even religions.

We can plug in those meanings for certain pictographs on the Disk, and derive others from several clear parallels on ancient gameboards which function here as equivalents of the Rosetta Stone. You will then find that these signs work seamlessly together without your having to know much about the Disk-maker’s language -- or script, if any.

When you use that approach, instead of treating the Disk as a "text", the groupings of signs on it become user-friendly and easily intelligible. They suddenly stir to life and tell a coherent as well as externally verified and supported story. Moreover, that story gives the clearest and most concise capsule description of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean cosmology which has come to light so far, finally freed from the clay that held it so long.

The ancient Disk is not much larger than a computer disk, but if you consider its unique riddle-solving and gap-filling value for shedding light on the science and religion of that time and region, it carries a much higher information density than any of its modern counterparts.

It shows us its maker’s cosmos and pantheon which resemble those of ancient Egypt but differ in telltale details and add new background to some events in the Bible. It also assembles many previously separate fragments of myths into a unified whole and so opens a new window on many long-lived beliefs from the ancient Near Eastern world, including some that survive in major modern religions.

That old Disk even includes an animated tutorial on how this world worked. When gamepieces perform the literally interactive story on its fields, their motions become more eloquent than mere text, and they let you follow live the myths it illustrates.  But unlike modern computer disks, that ancient clay Disk needs no electricity, it gives you no error messages, and it does not crash.

2. The Disk and ancient gameboards

2.1. Stamped decorations on gameboards
As an example of how it is only the "writing" assumption which makes the Disk appear so isolated, much has been made of the way its signs were stamped with a collection of separate stamps.

The invention of this technology in the West is usually ascribed to Johannes Gutenberg (1397 to 1468), so it appears here some three thousand years ahead of its time, about as much out of place as a wristwatch would be on a Ramesside mummy.

However, the anachronism applies only to the use of stamps for reproducing written texts, other than the few signs that fit on individual seals, and it disappears when we compare the stamping on the Disk with the decoration methods used on other objects, particularly gameboards.

For instance, some of the fields on boards for the ancient Egyptian game Senet were usually identified and/or embellished with signs. On some of the Senet boards made from faience, these signs were impressed into the clay-like soft mass before firing, and they were impressed there with stamps18.

In other words, as unusual as the stamping on the Phaistos Disk may have been for imprinting a text, stamping was in no way exceptional for impressing signs on gameboards.

So, if the Disk was not a text but happened to be a gameboard, it would be no longer the equivalent of that wristwatch under mummy bandages. It would then be as much in tune with its time as any of the ingenious shadow clocks occasionally found in tombs from back then.

This solution would also bear out those researchers who speculated from time to time that the Disk might have something to do with some spiral game19.

2.2. Eight-leaved rosettes on gameboards

Another clue that also points in the gameboard direction comes from the eight-leaved rosette which occurs four times on the Disk. That sign is frequently found on ancient gameboards, as illustrated by the examples below.

 

Gameboard inlaid with lapis lazuli, shell, and bone, one of several similar ones found in the Royal Graves of Ur in Sumer from about 2500 BCE.
 

The "Game of 20 Squares": boards of this type have the same track as in Ur, but one of its ends is unfolded into a straight line.  They appeared in Egypt only under the foreign Hyksos rulers but remained quite popular there even after these unpopular invaders had been driven out20.
 

Other variants of the above board games, illustrated by two examples found in Megiddo (left) and in Egypt (right).  The designs on the marked squares are eight-leaf rosettes.
 

This ivory gameboard for the "Game of 58 Holes" was found together with golden peg- heads at Megiddo, in a layer from about 1200 BCE.  Every fifth hole had an eight-leaf rosette.
 

Another game board from Ur, dated to about 700 BCE, for the same "Game of 58 Holes".  Here again, eight-leaved rosettes surround many of the peg holes.


The Egyptologist and game researcher
Timothy Kendall noted about the gameboards found in the Royal graves of Ur that:

"Although each board is decorated differently with squares displaying geometric patterns, arrangements of dots, eyes, or scenes of animal combat, the one feature they all have in common are the rosettes on the squares indicated. Thus it is apparent that only those had a special significance in play."21

The same observation applies more generally to most surviving copies of gameboards with such rosettes: on boards of the same type, the fields these graced were usually in the same positions, often including the beginning and/or end of the track on the board.

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