Feb. 15, 2011 at 4:28 PM ET
Games of leisure played a key part of life 4,000 years ago in the Indus Valley of present-day Pakistan, according to an archaeologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden who found that dice and other game pieces make up nearly 10 percent of the artifacts recovered in the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro.
Archaeologists often recover play-related artifacts, but usually dismiss them as unimportant for research or regard them as ritual objects or signs of social status, says Elke Rogersdotter, who studied the play-related artifacts for her doctoral thesis.
She argues that studying play can give archaeologists insight to the social structure of ancient societies. For example, at Mohenjo-Daro, not only is there an abundance of play-related objects, they also appear to follow a repetitive pattern of spatial distribution. This may indicate specific locations where games were played, such as gaming parlors.
"The marked quantity of play-related finds and the structured distribution shows that playing was already an important part of people's everyday lives more than 4,000 years ago," she said in a news release.
Cubical dice were the most widely found items, but archaeologists have also unearthed balls and marbles, conical gamesmen, "long dice" and casting bones — as well as what seem to be game boards made from bricks. Some experts have speculated that a game similar to ancient Mesopotamia's "Royal Game of Ur" was played at Mohenjo-Daro.
Mohenjo-Daro is the largest urban settlement from the Bronze Age in the Indus Valley, a cultural complex of the same era as ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Archaeologists have found the site difficult to interpret because they haven't found remains of temples or palaces, which makes it difficult to determine how the settlement was managed and what distinguished the elite.
For more information, check out Rogersdotter's thesis, which has been successfully defended.John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).