Take a look at the ‘board game of death’ played by ancient Egyptians

Take a look at the ‘board game of death’ played by ancient Egyptians
This Egyptian board game may have been used to contact the dead (Photo: Shutterstock)

In 1947, an ancient Egyptian table-top board game was submitted to the Rosicrucian museum in San Jose museum. But it posed an eerie question – was it used to contact the dead?

A new study published in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, identifies the object as an ancient game called Senet. A chess-like game that was first played nearly 5,000 years ago.

Senet is a two player game. Participants roll a dice to advance pieces up the board. But often the board is marked with symbols for the soul – identifying the passage of the soul through different stages to the afterlife.

Lead researcher, Walter Crist, from Masstrict University said, “It may be one of the first times that this aspect of the journey through the afterlife is visually rendered on the board.”

The 3,500 year old Senet board may have been used to contact the dead (courtesy of the Rosicrucian Museum, San Jose, California, USA
The 3,500 year old Senet board may have been used to contact the dead (Photo: Courtesy of the Rosicrucian Museum, San Jose, California, USA)

Catalogued as the Rosicrucian Board, and nicknamed the “board game of death” the artefact has an uncertain past. It is believed the board was sold in a market in the 19th century.

However, the board has odd markings. Compared to other Senet boards, this one appears to be laid out in the opposite way. According toe Crist and the team at Maastrict University, this identifies it as being from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom period, somewhere between 3,700 and 4,000 years ago.

The game also began a slow transition from entertainment to being a religious talking board, much like the progression of the modern day Ouija board – a product made for fun that many believe can contact the dead.

What is a ‘talking board’?

Historically, the first use of something representing a Ouija board dates back to the Sing dynasty in China, around 1,100 AD.

This Senet board is one of many that now show even earlier societies had an obsession with contacting the dead.

The modern Ouija board is the best example of a talking board. Where players place their hands on a stylus, ask questions, and the “spirits” direct their hands to letters on a board, spelling out answers from the dead.

But, it was initially established as a play-thing. During the American Civil War, and then the First World War, many mediums started using the board to console loved ones by “connecting” with the spirits of lost soldiers.

Senet was one of the world’s first board games to become a massive hit. It also shows how a parlour game can turn spiritual. At the time of its invention there is no evidence to show it was used for anything other than fun. But, 4,300 years ago Egyptian artwork began showing players playing with their dead relatives.