Old article but still Throwing stone balls along a lane might have been a popular game in ancient Egypt, according to evidence unearthed by Italian archaeologists. The game was a mixture of bowling, billiards and lawn bowls and was played at Narmoutheos, in the Fayoum region, some 90 kilometres south of Cairo. It was played in a spacious room that seems to be the prototype of a modern bowling hall. The room was part of a structure, perhaps a residential building, which dated from the Roman period, specifically between the 2nd and 3rd century AD. "We first discovered a room with a very well-built limestone floor. Then we noticed a lane and two stone balls," says Professor Edda Bresciani, an Egyptologist at the University of Pisa. The lane was about 4 metres long, 20 centimetres wide and 10 centimetres deep. And there was a 10 centrimetre square opening at its centre. Beneath the opening, Bresciani and colleagues from the University of Messina and the University of Trieste found a large terracotta vase filled with fine sand. They also noticed that the balls had different diameters; one fitted exactly the square opening, the other could run smoothly along the lane. Bresciani says the game was played by two players positioned at the two ends of the lane. One would throw the smaller ball, the other the bigger one. "They would throw the balls at the same time. Most likely, the bigger ball was thrown along the lane to prevent the smaller ball from entering the hole at the centre," she says. "When this happened, the smaller ball could be easily recovered from the sand-filled terracotta vase below." Taking it in turns Each player took it in turns to throw the smaller ball, which determined the winner of the game. "Obviously, the winner was the player who was able to place the ball into the hole more times," Bresciani says. Bresciani and her colleagues have tested the game by building a similar lane. "It works pretty well. It shows that both players must be very skillful and prompt," she says. Ball sports Dr Joyce Tyldesley, an archaeologist who wrote the book Egyptian Games and Sports, says the finding proves once again that the ancient Egyptians enjoyed a wide range of sports and games. "It sounds like a very interesting discovery. The Egyptians did play sports and games, although not team games as we play today. They also played a miniature form of marbles, rolling marbles between posts, which sounds relevant here," Tyldesley says. Bresciani says the game has no parallel in other civilisations. "I looked into similar ancient games, including ancient Roman games, and could not find anything like this. It really looks like it was invented in Egypt," she says.