The ancient Egyptian board game of senet dates from around 5550 B.C., according to the U.K. National Museums website. Senet, or "passing," may depict the hazardous journey of the soul to the afterlife. Elaborate ivory senet boards were found in Tutunkhamun's tomb, but the game was also made from humbler materials such as stone, wood and clay. The game has two players, who throw marked sticks to decide how to move pieces around a board of 30 squares. The exact rules are lost in time, but with a little guesswork, you can reconstruct and play a game once enjoyed by the pharaohs.
Things You'll Need
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup water
- Mixing bowl
- Wooden spoon
- Aluminum cooking foil
- Pastry board
- Rolling pin
- Sharp knife
- Watercolor paints
- Four popsicle sticks
Pour two cups of flour into a mixing bowl. Stir in one cup of salt into the flour with a wooden spoon.
Slowly add one cup of water to the mixture. Work it into a firm dough with the spoon, then shape it into a large ball with your hands.
Scatter a handful of dry flour on a pastry board. Knead the ball of dough with your knuckles on the board for about 10 minutes.
Put the ball of dough back in the mixing bowl. Let the dough sit for about 20 minutes.
Spread a sheet of aluminum cooking foil over the pastry board. This will prevent the salt dough from sticking to the board.
Put the ball of dough in the center of the foil. Scatter a little dry flour over the dough. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin into an even sheet about 1/2-inch thick.
Measure and mark out a rectangle on the dough, 10 inches long and 3 inches wide, using a ruler and the point of a pencil. Cut away the excess dough with a sharp knife. Save the extra dough.
Mark a grid of 1-inch squares -- 10 each in three rows, for a total of 30 -- onto the dough rectangle.
Check an illustration of a senet board to see the symbols that were drawn on it. (The British Museum and the Boston Museum of Science both provide clear representations of a board's layout.) Engrave the symbols onto the appropriate squares of the salt dough, using the point of a pencil.
Pinch a hazelnut-sized piece from the remaining dough. Roll it between your palms to make a small ball. Repeat the process until you have 14 balls of dough.
Form seven of the dough balls into cones with your finger and thumb. Roll the other seven balls into stubby cylinders with your palms. In senet, one player uses the cones and the other the cylinders. These pieces were known as "ibau" or "dancers."
Put the pastry board, with the game board and the 14 pieces, in a warm dry place. Let it sit until it is thoroughly hardened. This will take about two days.
Paint the board and pieces with watercolor paints. The ancient Egyptians sometimes used a bright turquoise blue for the pieces and muted, earthy colors for the board.
Paint four popsicle sticks red on one side and white on the other. In senet, a player tosses the sticks into the air. The number of sticks that land with the red side up indicates the number of squares the player can move a piece.
Let the paint dry.
Tips & Warnings
- If you make a mistake when marking your design onto the salt dough, simply dip your fingers in water and wipe away the incorrect marks.
- The ancient Egyptians used salt dough to make a wide variety of models and gifts.
- Senet rules are available online.
- Photo Credit Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images
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