My favourite piece in the British Museum

You can keep your hoards of gold and silver, your Egyptian mummies, your blockbuster Viking exhibitions. For me, the most wonderful piece in the whole British Museum is a bit of graffiti, not done by any artist or craftsman, but by a bored squaddie looking for ways to kill time.

Scratched onto a flat part of the base of one of the extraordinary Assyrian winged bulls are a couple of dozen squares. They’re the board for a dice game and were incised around 710BCE (although earlier examples of the game have been found dating back 4500 years). The thing seems to have been a sort of “race” game with counters (think of Ludo).

I love it because they give a human dimension to people we can never know – we can have no idea of what these people experienced, their sensibilities, their world view, but we can still relate to trying to find ways to fill in the time when the job gets boring, or enjoying a spot of ‘playtime’ with colleagues.

The British Museum text for the graffito is below:

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