Ancestors stone board joys: some technical considerations

Rui Tina Neto, Municipality of Meda, José Martinho Lourenço, University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, and Ana Cruz, Polytechnic Institute of Tomar

Keywords: Medieval Game Boards; Alquerque de 9; Mill Game; Ancestral Games; Labyrinths

We know that Man has always played, and that the game will be even before the great civilizations. We are to some authors like Johan Huizing (2000) above all Homo Ludicus – the Man who plays, and perhaps the only animal that manufactures and intentionally produces objects to play with and to be an integral part of the games (Rodrigues and Abreu 2015).
In the beginning, games were mainly forming and symbols of transmission of knowledge, both at the level of astrology and agriculture, and at the level of mythology, the sacred and the profane. Playing could have been the best way to transmit knowledge from generation to generation at a time when writing was not known, and the best form of expression was placed in symbology (Huizinga 2000).
Often the diagrams of these game boards, such as the game of Alquerque de 9 also known as Mill Game, are represented in banners, flags (Fernandes 2013), and even in gardens and cloisters of churches and palaces in a symbolic way, as well as other labyrinthine forms, many of them in enigmatic contexts, or engraved on the walls of religious buildings such as Monasteries, Convents, Churches and Cathedrals (Rodrigues and Abreu 2015). When the game boards appear vertically, as is the case of the temple of Diana in Évora in positions impossible to be playable, we can ask the question whether that stone was put there by re-use or simply by “vanity”, to leave the shows a stone that served as a game board.
However, these enigmatic forms may refer us to issues related to the symbolic, religious or pagan (Uberti 2012). Perhaps the most enigmatic gameplay diagram that has come to this day and spread in innumerable variants is the famous game of the goose that in Portugal assumes the title of game of glory, but always with an objective, to overcome obstacles as if of rituals of initiation if they were, reaching the glory of the victory at the end of the game, being that same victory, the glory of good over evil (Carreira 2004).
Thus, there is an essential question, whether the game represents only a playful aspect that much we should consider, essentially as a production of culture, or will be more than that, and as producer of culture it takes the enigmatic side associated with the sacred and the profane.
In Ireland, a millstone game was found inside a bronze-age tomb (Carreira et al. 2004), which shows that it was played in northern Europe after it was known that it was already played in ancient Egypt and Mesopatamia, and all over the Roman Empire and the Muslims (Whittaker 2006) as well as the most diverse variants of the game of the Alquerque that we can find in the Scandinavian country (Jensans 2017).
But the way they end up appearing in these cities of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and later in the Roman Empire (Bell 1979), raises the question of how and where they may have arisen. Initially, all these game diagrams would have been recorded horizontally, but from a certain point we started to see them engraved in a vertical position which raises some questions: how to play with a board upright? With stones stuck? With something imaginary? In what way?

Man, has always played and is even seen in the wake of Huizinga, as something that is innate to man and even to animals, as if it were a simple primary category of life and thus before culture, and would be even the culture that evolved in the game:
“The game is a fact older than culture, for even in its less rigorous definitions it always presupposes human society” (Huizinga 2010: 3).
It is this factor that Man has always played and that the game is before the culture, which makes it more difficult to obtain a sequential and synchronized chronological line that can allow us to obtain an explanation for the construction of the history of the trays of game.
We are often led to interpret and try to distinguish, though with great difficulty, old engravings that may well be lines of games such as the so-called cup marks modules or moduli di coppelle (Gavazzi and Gavazzi 1997) with others that may very well be interpreted like lines belonging to figures of religious and mystical character and also lines or gristle that in nothing are associated with any of these games.
Initially, these game boards were made on land or sand in an ephemeral form and at a given moment they were made into fixed rocks and therefore can be classified as “Rock Art” although many of them were made on a removable support and in this case, they are examples of “Mobile Art” (Rodrigues and Abreu 2015).
“The first” screen “(…) of Man was the stone. He painted and engraved on the rocky walls leaving their marks, in the most distant regions of the planet, and this … is the Rock Art” (Anati 2003). Thus, in the line of thought of Gioconda Abreu: “(…) the graphic operative chain can be defined as a set of anthropic actions elaborated in a technical / plastic operative sequence, resulting in the creation of artistic forms (…)” (Abreu 2008: 23).

The medium has a main and fundamental role in choosing the type of engraving or painting to be transposed, and even the meaning of the themes will influence the choice of the supports. We know from practice and direct observation in any situation that the engraving presupposes removing material from the support, while the painting presupposes adding material to the support (Fernandes 2013). The relationship between the gestures that the artist performs, and the support used, give rise to different types of recording also because they are subject to both the movements and intensity with which the individual performs them, but also by the number of times he is obliged to repeat the gestures. Your attitude will condition the morphology and size of the grooves and lines that give rise to plastic creation.
However, the observation that is very attentive to the naked eye does not always allow us to visualize engravings or paintings whose erosion or patina has been “erased”, and in these cases the use of new technologies, such as 3D modeling of digital photography or the manipulation of these digital images using software such as “DStretch” or “Builder Professional” allows us to obtain and visualize game diagrams that would be practically impossible, while allowing us to register and inventory.


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