People in Mongolia today are still playing a game which has been popular in Asia for more than 3,000 years.
Key pieces, made of animal bone, for the fortune-telling game Shagai were found alongside the remains of a Bronze Age teenager buried in the Astrakhan region of Russia close to the Caspian Sea.
The adolescent lived between 3,200 and 3,800 years ago and it is not yet known if the individual was female or male.
The game pieces were made from the ankle bones of either a sheep or a goat, archaeologists believe.
The ancient game remains a feature of society in Mongolia and some Central Asian states and gets its name from the direct translation of ‘ankle’ – meaning Shagai.
It was popular in ancient Central Asia for thousands of years and it is believed they are thought to be the earliest form of dice.
The bones are thrown in the air and the position they land in can convey the luck of the player, it is believed.
It remains a feature of society in Mongolia and some Central Asian states and is commonly played during the summer holiday of Naadam.
The two convex sides represent a horse or sheep – seen as lucky – while the concave faces signify a goat or camel and are held to be unlucky.
Modern versions of the game see them painted or decorated and given as well-wishing tokens.
It became known in other regions of the world as Knucklebones, or Jacks in English, and was believed to tell the fortune of players.
A clay pot was also found resting on the face of the skeleton but this is thought to be unrelated to the game.
The teenager was discovered in the Bogomolnye Peski burial ground and is believed to be between 3,200 and 3,800 years old and belonging to the ancient Srubnaya culture.
Astrakhan History museum’s scientific researcher Georgy Stukalov said the skeleton lay in a ‘crooked position’ and claims the game ‘was probably the most popular among the kids in the Bronze age’.
‘And this game – shagai – came to us through the centuries.
‘Even 50 to 60 years ago our granddads and grannies used to play this game.’
Residents in some remote places still play the traditional game today.
In the same necropolis near the village of Nikolskoye, researchers also found the remains of a ‘laughing’ prehistoric man with an artificially deformed egg-shaped skull.
They also discovered a 2,000 year old nomadic ‘royal’ in a tomb with stunning gold and silver treasures.
Unlike the teenager – whose burial was much older – these relics came from the Sarmatian nomadic tribe which held sway in the region until the 5th century AD.
Stunning gold and silver jewellery, weaponry, valuables and artistic household items were found next to the chieftain’s skeleton in a grave close to the Caspian Sea in southern Russia .
The most ‘significant’ finds is seen as a male skeleton buried inside a wooden coffin.
This chieftain’s head was raised as if it rested on a pillow and he wore a cape decorated with gold plagues.
Archaeologists found his collection of knives, items of gold, a small mirror and different pots, evidently signalling his elite status.