Leather game balls found buried with ancient Chinese warriors were used 3,000 years ago to stay fit

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A set of leather balls have been discovered in ancient Chinese tombs that were used by horseback riding warriors about 3,000 years ago in games used to stay fit and war ready


A set of leather balls have been discovered in ancient Chinese tombs that were used by horseback riding warriors about 3,000 years ago to stay fit and war ready.

Researchers from the University of Zurich found the artifacts in three graves located at the prehistoric Yanghai cemetery near the city of Turfan.

The balls are designed with sheepskin pulled together with leather thread and stuffed with leather strips – all of which are about the size of a baseball.

Although the team is unsure how the balls were used, a wall painting in one of the tombs that shows two men on horseback with sticks and a ball engaging in what looks like a form of hockey.

A set of leather balls have been discovered in ancient Chinese tombs that were used by horseback riding warriors about 3,000 years ago in games used to stay fit and war ready

The University of Zurich collaborated with teams in Germany and China for the study, which found the balls are the oldest to be discovered in Eurasia.

Patrick Wertmann of the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies of the University of Zurich, said: ‘This makes these balls about five centuries older than the previously known ancient balls and depictions of ball games in Eurasia.’

‘Unfortunately, however, the associated archaeological information is not sufficient to answer the question of exactly how these balls were played.’

The team does write in the published study that the balls were used in team and goal sport and suggest the game was likely similar to hockey, golf or polo.

The balls are designed with sheepskin pulled together with leather thread and stuffed with leather strips – all of which are about the size of a baseball

The balls are designed with sheepskin pulled together with leather thread and stuffed with leather strips – all of which are about the size of a baseball

Although the team is unsure how the balls were used, they did find a wall painting in one of the tombs that shows two men on horseback with sticks and a ball engaging in what looks like a form of hockey

Although the team is unsure how the balls were used, they did find a wall painting in one of the tombs that shows two men on horseback with sticks and a ball engaging in what looks like a form of hockey

The earliest illustrations from Greece show ball players running, and depictions from China show riders using sticks.

Comparable curved sticks were also found in Yanghai, but there was no apparent direct connection with the balls.

And they are dated to a more recent period.

‘Therefore, the leather balls from Yanghai are not connected to early forms of field hockey or polo, even though two of the balls were found in the graves of horsemen,’ said Wertmann.

Along with the ancient balls, researchers also uncovered a bow and a pair of trousers in one of the graves.

Researchers from the University of Zurich found the artifacts in three graves located at the prehistoric Yanghai cemetery near the city of Turfan

Researchers from the University of Zurich found the artifacts in three graves located at the prehistoric Yanghai cemetery near the city of Turfan

These artifacts ‘are both signs of a new era of horse riding, equestrian warfare and fundamental societal transformations which accompanied increasing environmental changes and a rising mobility in eastern Central Asia,’ the team shared.

Bodies laid to rest in the tombs were well-preserved, allowing experts to uncover details of who the three men were some 3,000 years ago.

Tomb labeled IM157 was covered by a layer of gravel and sand and contained the remains of a male that died at about 40 year sold.

He wore a leather coat, colored woolen trousers and red leather boots with bronze buttons.

Each of the balls were found buried with an ancient warrior. Experts believe they played games as physical exercise and for military training

Each of the balls were found buried with an ancient warrior. Experts believe they played games as physical exercise and for military training

A necklace of turquoise beads and bone was found around his neck and on his arm was a protector made of red cow leather – an accessory of an archer.

In his grave was one of the balls that was about three inches in diameter, marked with a red cross.

Another tomb, IM209, only had a skull and lower limb bones due to earlier looting that had occurred in the cemetery.

The man is believed to have been 20 to 25 years old when he passed.

Although looters too most of the items in the grave, the game ball was left behind.

The third tomb, IM214, held the skeletal remains of a man with a missing skull.

However, the team was able to identify two tattoos on the back of his hand.

Among the collected items from the grave are a pair of leather boots and one braided plait of human, as well as a game ball.



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