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Misconceptions in the History of Mancala Games: Antiquity and Ubiquity

   | 27 apr 2021


Mancala games are commonly defined by the appearance of the boards and mode of moving the pieces. The similarities have led to the belief that most mancala games are historically related or that they may be identified by appearances alone. Their ubiquity in Africa and their occurrence as graffiti boards on ancient monuments has created speculation about their antiquity. To this date their ancient status cannot be confirmed by archaeological or historical evidence. Based on today’s understanding, mancala games are of distinct kinds with separate histories while their antiquity goes back hundreds of years but not yet thousands.

Mancala games have been instrumental in showing that so-called complex societies and the presence of board games are not necessarily related. By extension, state formation and the development of board games should not be connected based on the evidence of contemporary mancala gaming practices.