Cup marks found in Aksum (Ethiopia)

A timeline of mancala history.

"Neolithic & Iron Age Mancala"

Many claims were made that some graffiti or cup marks found in neolithic and Iron Age archaeological sites might have been mancala boards. However, none of these finds could be dated with any certainty and often these interpretations were dismissed by other researchers as pure speculation.

The most notable claims are:


Henry Parker claimed in 1909 that he saw mancala boards on the roof-slabs of the Kurna temple (today known as "Ramesseum") near Luxor, Egypt, and at the entrance of the temple of Karnak, Thebes, both dated by him around 1,400 BC. He also wrote that he had observed a board at the south-east corner of the Pyramid of Menkaura, which was built in 2500 BC. However, modern egyptologists never found any mancala game in the ancient Egyptian culture. Parker's report inspired the creation of the so-called "Egyptian Shell Game" in the early 1970s. The board game researcher Thierre Depaulis wrote about the Kurna graffiti in 2003: "The Kurna (or Qurna) Temple graffiti were published by Parker in 1909 (although his book dealt with... Ceylon!) and were reproduced, with some slight "improvements", by Murray in his book "A History of Board Games other than Chess" (1952). Since then nobody has seen them! Some archaeologists with an interest in board-game history have tried to find them but found only a few of them, and their conclusion is that they cannot be dated with certainty. One of these designs (reproduced by Parker and, after a drastic simplification, by Murray) appears to be Coptic! Others are better related to Roman board games... None of the so-called "mancala" boards have been observed! All Egyptologists say they have never encountered anything like mancala in the rich Egyptian tradition of table games. We cannot relie on such a poor evidence."

In 2008, the archaeologist Ulrich Schädler remarked: "In fact, there are a lot of designs on the temple roof, some of them date to at least the Coptic, i.e. Christian era. So there is no possibility at all to date these designs. Also, we do not even know if those designs which look like game boards are in fact game boards. There are among the signs mason's marks and magic symbols, perhaps most of these designs were meant as such... Forget Kurna, until a complete new documentation of the roof will have been published."

Near East

Diana Kirkbridge claimed in 1966 in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly that she found a mancala boards in the neolithic Village of Beidha (about 7,000 BC) in Jordan. However, the renowned archaeologist and board game researcher Ulrich Schädler expressed in 1998 the commonly held view that they were "unlikely to be game boards" because grooves are running through the depressions and off the slab at one end.

Gary O. Rollefson described in 1992 a neolithic board found in Jordan at ‘Ain Ghazal (before 5,000 BC), which he thought to be a mancala board. Again, Schädler dismissed this artifact as "unlikely to be a gameboard", because it has diverging rows of holes.

A letter in the January/February 2003 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review even claimed that an artifact found in Jericho and dating to the 7th millennium BC points to the game's origin in ancient Israel. Depaulis replied: "I take it as pure bullshit. (...) Why should any alignment of depressions be a game? Why should it be a mancala board?? As Ulrich Schaedler has shown some years ago, if two parallell rows of holes can be a board game it is not necessarily a mancala game. In Asia Minor, for example, Schaedler showed such patterns were related to the Greek game of Five Lines".


Mary Leakey who undertook some archaeological surveys on Hyrax Hill, Kenya, in 1937, claimed that a "Bau" board cut in a boulder dates back to 1,500 BC. In fact, the board, which has two rows of 13 pits could have been made much later.

"Roman Mancala"

In 1998, Ulrich Schädler pointed to the possibility that mancala was known to the Graeco-Roman world in late antiquity. He found a remodelled board of the ancient Greek Game of Five Lines (Pente Grammai) in the Roman Agora at Izmir, which could have been used to play a mancala game. He concluded that "the gameboards engraved in the pavements should be dated not earlier than the 2nd and hardly later than the 8th century AD." In 2004, L. Mulvin and S. E. Sidebotham described Roman game boards from Abu Sha'ar, a Roman fortress at the Red Sea coast, which was abandoned in the late 4th century AD. Their findings included boards that most probably were mancala boards. In 2010, the Dutch mancala researcher A. J. de Voogt reported about possible mancala players at Palmyra, which might date from the end of the 3rd century AD. He cautioned, however, that "the term 'Roman mancala' is, at first glance, misleading since there is no proof that the game originated with the Romans or that this game is actually a mancala game.". Only a written record would remove all doubts about the nature of the archaeological findings.

Before 1000

  • late 4th century - Oldest mancala boards found in Abu Sha'ar, a late Roman legionary fortress (Red Sea coast, Egypt) -- but note the section above!
  • 6th - 7th century - Fragment of a pottery board and several rock cuts found in Aksumite Ethiopia in Matara (now in Eritrea)
  • 8th - 9th century - The Arabic compiler Abu abd-Allah Muhammed el-Gahshigar (Persia) briefly mentions mancala in his work "Hezār wa-Yek Shab"
  • c. 960 - Ali Abul al-Faraj al-Isfahani (Persia) mentions mancala in his book "Kitāb al-Aghani"
  • 10th century - Mancala board of Abd-al-Rahman's daughter, which is kept today in the Museo de Burgos (Spain)

Before 1800

  • 1086 - The Vietnamese mathematician Mạc Hiển Tích discovers số ẩn (negative numbers; literally: "hidden / secret number") by playing Ô Ăn Quan.
  • 1220s - The founder of the Mali kingdom plays Awalé when he still is a boy according to the famous Epic of Sundjiata
  • 14th century - The Awalé board of the Musée National du Mali is made
  • 1620 - Richard Jobson, an English explorer, observes mancala as one of the first Europeans in West Africa (his account was published three years later in London)
  • c. 1625 - King Shyaam aMbul aNgoong, the founder of the Bushoong ruling dynasty of the Kuba kingdom, introduces mancala to Central Africa
  • 1648 - The French traveller Étienne de Flacourt discovers Bao on Madagascar
  • 1664 - The French traveller Jean de Thévenot describes Mangala, which he found in the Levante.
  • 1699 - Job Ludolf mentions a mancala game in his "Lexicon Aethiopico-Latinum" for the first time in Germany
  • 1701 - Ntim Gyakari and his wife are killed in the Battle of Feyiase while playing Oware with golden counters.
  • 1709 - The cabinetmakers Sommer in Künzelsau (Germany) make Baroque mancala game tables for the aristocratic family von Hohenlohe
  • c. 1740 - Jean-Etienne Liotard creates the painting Two Greek or Franconian Ladies Sitting on a Divan and Playing Mancala
  • c. 1790 - Czarina Catherine the Great receives a mancala set from the Shah of Persia, which is today in the art collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia


  • early 1800s - Olinda board of King Ehelapola (died 1815), today in the Sri Lanka National Museum
  • 1820s - Muyaka bin Haji composes "Bao naligwa", a Bao poem
  • c. 1830 - E. W. Lane finds "Manqala" being played in cafés in Cairo, Egypt; his travel account (published in 1836) introduces the word mancala in Europe
  • 1862 - Mukasa is the best Omweso master, when the British researcher John Hanning Speke reaches Uganda
  • c. 1864 - Mancala is commercialized for the first time by Jaques in England as "Mangola"
  • 1894 - For the first time, Mancala is used as a generic term by Stewart Culin, Director of the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Paleontology, in his highly influential paper "Mancala: The National Game of Africa"


  • 1940 - Kalah, the most successful modern mancala game, is invented by William Julius Champion Jr.
  • 1952 - Harold J. R. Murray describes almost 200 variants of mancala in his book "A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess"
  • 1959 - Kalah becomes the first remotely played computer game
  • 1966 - The Chama Cha Bao ("Bao Society") is formed in Tanzania to promote Bao la Kiswahili as one of the first mancala associations
  • 1972 - On April 7, Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume, the President of Zanzibar and Union First Vice-President of Tanzania, is murdered while playing a game of Bao
  • 1984 - First edition of Larry Russ' best-selling book "Mancala Games", which boosts interest in these games in the west


  • 2000 - Most Kalaha variants weakly solved by Geoffrey Irving, Jeroen Donkers and Jos Uiterwijk except Kalah (6/6). Strong first-player advantage was proven in most cases.
  • 2002 - Awari was strongly solved by the Dutch researchers John W. Romein and Henri E. Bal

External Links


Culin, S.
Mancala: The National Game of Africa. In: Report of the National Museum, Philadelphia (USA) 1894: 597-611.
Donkers, J., Uiterwijk, J. & Irving, G.
Solving Kalah. In: ICGA Journal 2000; 23 (3): 139-147.
Flacourt, E. de.
Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar. Paris (France) 1658.
Jahn, F.
Alte deutsche Spiele. Furche-Verlag, Berlin (Germany) 1917, 14-15.
Jobson, R.
The Golden Trade; Or, A Discovery of the River Gambra, and the Golden Trade of the Aethiopians. London (England) 1623.
Kirkbride, Diana.
Five Seasons at the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Village of Beidha in Jordan. In: Palestine Exploration Quarterly 1966; 98: 8-72.
Lane, E. W.
An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Written in Egypt During the Years 1833, 34, and 35. Partly from Notes Made During a Former Visit to that Country in the Years 1825, 26, 27 and 28. London (England) 1836.
Ludolf, J.
Lexicon Aethiopico-Latinum. Johannes David Zunnerus, Frankfurt (Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) 1699.
Mulvin, L. & Sidebotham, S. E.
Roman Game Boards from Abu Sha'ar (Red Sea Coast, Egypt). In: Antiquity 2004; 78 (301): 602–617.
Murray, H. J. R.
A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess. Oxford University Press, Oxford (England) 1951, 203.
Pankhurst, R.
Gabata and Related Board Games of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. In: Ethiopia Observer 1971; 14 (3).
Parker, H.
Ancient Ceylon: An Account of the Aborigines and of Part of the Early Civilisation. Luzac & Co., London (UK) 1909.
Rollefson, G. O.
A Neolithic Game Board from 'Ain Ghazal, Jordan. In: Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 1992; 286: 1-5. (Reprint: Fachdienst Spiel 1996; 5: 22-27)
Rollefson, G. O.
A Brief Note On Another Neolithic Mancala Game Board from 'Ain Ghazal, Jordan. In: Fachdienst Spiel 1996; 5: 27-28.
Romein, J. W. & Bal, H. E.
Awari Is Solved. In: ICGA Journal 2002; 25 (3), 162-165.
Romein, J. W. & Bal, H. E.
Solving the Game of Awari Using Parallel Retrograde Analysis. In: IEEE Computer 2003; 36 (10): 26-33.
Rosser-Owen, M.
A Córdoban Ivory Pysis Lid in the Ashmolean Museum. In: Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World 1999; 16: 16-31.
Russ, L.
The Complete Mancala Games Book: How to Play the World's Oldest Board Games. Marlowe & Company, New York (USA) 1999.
Schädler, U.
Mancala in Roman Asia Minor?. In: Board Games Studies 1998; 1: 10-25.
Voogt, A. J. de
Mancala Players at Palmyra. In: Antiquity 2010; 84 (326): 1055-1066.
Voogt, A. J. de.
Muyaka's Poetry in the History of Bao. In: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 2003; 66: 61-65.
Voogt, A. J. de.
Mancala Boards (Olinda Keliya) in the National Museums of Colombo. In: Board Game Studies 2000; 3: 90-99.


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