China discovers bamboo slips recording rules of ancient board game

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The tomb of the Marquis of Haihun is part of China's most complete Western Han Dynasty cemetery. The excavation of the tomb began in 2011, with more than 10,000 artifacts unearthed so far.

NANCHANG, March 13 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archaeologists have examined a batch of bamboo slips unearthed from a Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-8 AD) tomb and found they recorded the long-lost rules of "liubo", an ancient Chinese board game.

Liubo, literally "six sticks," is a two-player board game dating back over 2,000 years and believed to be the ancestor of Xiangqi, or Chinese chess. It was immensely popular among royals and commoners during the Western Han Dynasty, but its exact rules were lost after the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

Zhu Fenghan, director of the institute, said that it is the first time that the detailed rules of liubo have been found, although the game is referenced in several ancient Chinese texts and game boards and pieces have been found in a number of Western Han Dynasty tombs.

More than 5,500 bamboo slips were excavated from the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun near Nanchang in eastern China's Jiangxi Province. Over 1,000 of them were recently confirmed to be inscribed with the rules of liubo, according to the institute of excavated text research at Peking University, which is in charge of examining the items.

Zhu said further research into the bamboo slips would help archaeologists reconstruct the game's rules.