The world of games, be it board games, video games, or sports, is absolutely massive today. The sports industry is estimated to be worth around a staggering 500 Billion U.S Dollars, and the video game industry is larger than both the movie and music industries combined. Games are thus the most expansive form of entertainment available today. But they didn’t reach these insane levels of popularity and profitability overnight. The games industry has an expansive, rich history that has undergone countess revolutions and changes.
Board games alone have been around for so long, and are a fascinating subject to look in to. And then of course, sports are the oldest forms of entertainment gaming alive today. But among all the amazing new and modern games, there are classics that have survived all this time on the basis of concrete gameplay and sheer popularity alone and are renowned worldwide. So let’s take a look at some of the most ancient games, be it board game, sport, or anything else, that are still played today.
If we had to pick a game that has been around the longest, we would definitely go with running. As simple as it is when it comes to rules, running has been a sport since the earliest days of man. It’s quite easy to see why it would be a sport. Back then, people had to chase and catch their prey in order to survive. This of course, meant that the people who could run the longest were ideal hunters; as humans back then employed the strategy of chasing their prey until it collapsed due to exhaustion.
Thus, rudimentary competitions were held to determine fast and efficient runners. Evidence of this can be found on ancient cave paintings that can be dated all the way back to 15,300 years ago in the Lascaux caves of France. Similar cave paintings have been found in a few other places as well, alongside depictions of the second oldest sport ever: wrestling.
Cave paintings from the aforementioned Lascaux caves, as well as ones found in caves in Mongolia and Egypt, lead us to believe that wrestling was the second sport that gained popularity amongst ancient humans. Studying other artifacts from that time, as well as the lifestyle people adopted, it can be safely theorized that wrestling gained popularity as a sport around the time humans discovered agriculture.
Once farming crops and animals had become the primary source of food rather than chasing down prey before each meal, the strongest people of a tribe would wrestle to decide which person was the strongest and thus could be the most useful whenever they needed to catch an animal in a pinch. Wrestling and running would continue to enjoy popularity until they were featured in the ancient Olympics as well. Since then they’ve been cemented as essential sports for competitions, and are enjoyed by many today. Even cave paintings in Japan depict a sport similar to today’s sumo wrestling.
Like running and wrestling, swimming has also been found painted on cave walls dating over 10,000 years back. Recreational swimming appears to have been enjoyed alongside running and wrestling. It is sort of unclear if swimming presented any advantage when it came to hunting for food and was done to root out the best swimmers, or if it was just something people did for fun to pass the time. Whichever the case, swimming has survived alongside running and wrestling to be an Olympic sport today.
Very likely the last sport that can be dated all the way back to running, wrestling, and swimming, archery has also been depicted on cave walls over 10,000 years ago. It is to be expected that once people discovered archery, they would hold competitions to see who the best archer was.
Due to how much skill archery requires, as well as the fact that it is immensely powerful for hunting animals, the competitions would have allowed winners to both have boasting rights as well as be picked for hunts. Archery continues to be a sport today, with many skilled archers nailing bullseye after bullseye in front of thousands of spectators.
A board game older than many sports, Senet is the oldest board game that we know of. Unlike some other ancient board games, Senet is still sold by some manufacturers today. However, unlike running or wrestling, the original ruleset of Senet has been partly lost to time. This has led to some conjecture about its rules, and missing gaps have been filled in by new rules that are thought to have been used back then.
One could perhaps argue that this means the original game is in fact, not played anymore. But the original board design remains and as some rules have been extracted from ancient texts and depictions, a little variation doesn’t hurt. The spirit of the game is alive and though it might not be as popular as Chess, it still counts as an ancient game still being played today.
Ancient Olympic Sports
Long Jump: Long jumping, as implied by its name, is a sport where you compete to jump a longer distance than your opponents. It has been in the Olympics for centuries and is still played today, but can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt.
Javelin Throw: Javelin throwing is another sport that has been in the Olympics for centuries. Based around throwing a javelin as far as possible, this sport can also be traced back to ancient Egypt and even ancient Rome, where lighter javelins were used at the time.
Weightlifting: Weightlifting is another similar Olympic sport that has been around for thousands of years. Similar to making the longest jump or getting the longest throw, weightlifting is all about lifting the heist weight. And like long jumping and javelin throwing, weightlifting can also be traced back to ancient Egypt.
Tic-tac-toe, a very simple game, has been played since the time of ancient Egypt. Slabs featuring the iconic grid layout have been recovered from Egyptian ruins, and the grid is drawn on floors, roofs, and walls all around ancient Rome. Back then, it was played with three pebbles for each player, and the goal was to move around the pebbles in an attempt to make a winning line of three.
Boxing can also be traced back quite some time; to at least 2800 BC, when Gilgamesh is supposed to have participated in the sport with Enkidu. Sumerian king Shulgi (around 2097 BC) also used to boast about his skill in boxing. Boxing is, of course, one of the most watched sport today; taking place in arenas that seat hundreds of thousands while two people deck it out in a small ring. Boxing probably emerged as a more refined form of wrestling; consisting of more rules and participated in for the sake of competition rather than to find strong people for hunts.
There are many other sports and board games that have been around for a long time, but these few games are without a doubt the oldest. There have been other board games too, though they never survived the centuries, and many other sports are played to this day but were a tad too recent to make the cut.