Researchers from Yale University have made a spectacular archaeological discovery in Kenya that sheds light on the recreational activities of past societies in this region of Africa.

Dr. Veronica Waweru, who leads the research project in the central area of Kenya, recently uncovered a series of ancient game boards carved in rock dating back thousands of years.

The discovery was made possible through collaboration between Waweru and the rangers of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, who alerted the researcher to the presence of prehistoric stone tools being illegally extracted from the site by visitors.

Intrigued, Waweru visited the area to inspect it last summer. There, she was surprised to find rows of dimples carved into a rock formation, some heavily worn by erosion.

After carefully analyzing the boards, Waweru determined that they were tables for playing Mancala, a popular ancient strategy game still played in various regions of the world.

The game is played on a board with holes or divisions, usually divided into two rows, one for each player. Each player starts with chips or stones placed in the holes on their side, and the goal is to move all the chips to the opposite side of the board.

Dating the site is challenging due to the age of the rock, but it is believed that these structures could have been used thousands of years ago. The varying degrees of erosion suggest that some boards are older than others.

This would be the largest collection of Mancala boards discovered in Africa to date. The researcher estimates that there are at least 20 carved tables, many of which overlap, suggesting a recreational site frequented over long periods in the past.

The presence of these boards alongside several nearby burial mounds suggests that the site may have had a ceremonial aspect as well.

The location of the site, near the equator in the fertile highlands of Kenya and close to a permanent water source, indicates that it could have been a highly frequented meeting point for pastoral communities that inhabited the area over the last 5,000 years. Waweru theorizes that these herding groups used the site to play while tending to their livestock, indicating a richer social life than previously assumed.

This unprecedented discovery gains greater significance as it was made in collaboration with local rangers and farmers, whom Waweru has been training for years as “partners” in the research. With their help and knowledge of the territory, dozens of new archaeological sites have been discovered to date.

The program, which includes the participation of these “enthusiasts” in educational events, aims to demonstrate the importance of a multicultural perspective in research on human origins.


Yale University

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