Royal Game of Ur

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bill@geektrap.com

I've become slightly obsessed recently about a 3,000-year-old game found in the tombs of royalty excavated at the site of the ancient city of Ur, in Mesopotamia. I was initially introduced to it by this (charming, delightful) video, and decided that I needed to make a copy of it for my collection. I watched some other videos and discovered that it's possible to create an almost perfect transfer of laser toner from paper to wood, simply by painting the wood and the paper with water-based acrylic resin, pressing them tightly together, letting the resin dry, and then using water to enable the paper to be rolled off with your fingers. Armed with this information, I set out to draw replicas of the designs on the original, millennia-old board using Inkscape software. Once all the designs were complete (including intentional non-symmetries and other signs of hand-made objects) I laid them out and printed them, and then transferred the whole thing to the wood. (This is actually a test piece I did, using some 1/8" hobby plywood. On sanded solid wood, it works even better.) The game board itself was made by cutting wide strips of hard maple, and thinner strips of purple heartwood, gluing them together, then cutting them apart the other direction and gluing them back together with additional strips of purple heart between them.

I made playing pieces by resawing and planing a piece of hard maple to about 1/4" thick and then using a plug cutter to produce a bunch of identical wooden disks. I then dyed the disks black and blue, drilled the patterns for the requisite pips (see below) using a 3d-printed guide, and glued in 5mm hematite cabochons on the blue disks, and lapis lazuli cabs on the black disks, before finishing them with more acrylic coating. (Pictures to come.) I also made a set using powdered mother-of-pearl packed into the pip holes and anchored with CA glue.

I then set out to make "gambling" tokens, for the more complex version of the game using terracotta clay and some cuneiform stamps I designed and 3D printed. They represent the numbers 20, 10, 5, and 1, from right to left. I'm sure these bear no resemblance to the actual money or whatever they used to keep score, but I thought it was a nice touch anyway.


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