Hounds and Jackals is the modern name given to an Ancient Egyptian game that is known from several examples of gaming boards and gaming pieces found in excavations. The modern name was invented by Howard Carter, who found one complete gaming set in a Theban tomb of ancient Egyptian pharaoh Amenemhat IV that dates to the 13th Dynasty. The latter game set is one of the best preserved examples and is today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He called it Hounds contra Jackals. Another modern name for this game, but not so often used is fifty-eight holes.
The gaming board has two sets of 29 holes. Gaming pieces are ten small sticks with either jackal or dog heads. The game appeared in Egypt, around 2000 BC and was mainly popular in the Middle Kingdom. In the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, Pharaoh Seti and Nefretiri are depicted playing the game.
The original name of this game unknown. Different archaeologists use different names.
The game was named “Hounds and jackals” by Carter because of the decorative shapes of the pegs – one player's pins were carved in the form of hounds, while the opposite player's pins were carved as jackals.
"Shen" is the less common name for this game; it was inscribed in Egyptian hieroglyphs around the big hole on some of the boards found.
The game is also called the “Palm tree game” as some of the holes were replaced by tree figures.
The game is played with two players. The gaming board has two sets of 29 holes. Gaming pieces are ten small sticks with either jackal or dog heads. One player takes five jackal heads, and other player takes five dog heads. The aim of the game was perhaps to start at one point on the board and to reach with all figures another point on the board. The hole on the top of the board is slightly bigger than others and accepted as the endpoint for the players.
During the archaeological excavations, boards were found from remains of Assyrian merchant colonies in Central Anatolia dated 19th-18th centuries B.C. There are options that these boards were brought to Anatolia from Mesopotamia by Assyrian traders, or through the connection between Cappadocia and Egypt.
More than 68 gameboards of Hounds and Jackals have been discovered in the archaeological excavations in various territories, including Syria (Tell Ajlun, Ras el-Ain, Khafaje), Israel (Tel Beth Shean, Gezer), Iraq (Uruk, Nippur,Ur, Nineveh, Ashur, Babylon), Iran (Tappeh Sialk, Susa, Luristan), Turkey (Karalhuyuk, Kultepe, Acemhuyuk), Azerbaijan (Gobustan) and Egypt (Buhen, El-Lahun, Sedment).
Other animals (horses, cats or sparrowhawks) have been found on the top of the pegs, in addition to dogs and jackals, but no such pieces have been found in the Near East where this game was played from the beginning of the second millennium till the middle of the first millennium. Tokens made of ivory with a notch at the top found at Megiddo have been linked to board games. In this site, pins made of ivory with a top as a dog or jackal head was also revealed. Undecorated sticks were found at Ur.
One of the examples of “Hounds and jackals” was discovered in Necropolis B at Tepe Sialk in Iran.
In April 2018, archaeologist Walter Crist from the American Museum of Natural History discovered the examples of 58 holes in Gobustan, Azerbaijan. After examining the rock shelters having complicated dot patterns carved on them, he includes this one of the samples of Hounds and Jackals. In his speech at the annual meeting of American Schools of Oriental Research in November, Crist linked this close relation as: “Bronze Age herders in that region must have had contacts with the Near Eastern world. Ancient games often passed across cultures and acted as a social lubricant.”
The game is thought to be like the modern backgammon game. In both games, stones are used around the board until reaching the endpoint.
Twenty squares was widely spread to other territories such as Israel, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Cyprus as Hounds and Jackals games. As well as gaming rules are alike: the one who reaches the endpoint wins the game as it is in Hounds and Jackals. Dice, stones or other pieces are also used in this game to determine who should start first.
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