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An ancient ball and polo mallet from the Yanghai Tombs

Archaeologists in China unearth 2,400-year-old Polo Sticks and Balls

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The invention of the ancient sport of polo, called the King of Sports and the Sport of Kings, had been dated to the 6 th century B.C. in Persia, but that may be changing soon.

Archaeologists have excavated three leather balls and eight long-handled polo sticks from the Yanghai Tombs in Turpan, China, dated to between 2,400 and 2,800 years old. If they are as old as 2,800 years, they predate the previous estimated date for the invention of polo.

According to Yibada.com, the balls and mallets predate the earliest known record of Polo in China. The archaeological team leader, Lyu Guo’en, said that the first historical reference of Chinese Polo can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD). However, the latest discovery dates to the Spring and Autumn Warring States period (770 BC – 221 BC).

The Yanghai Tombs are the greatest ancient burial site in the Turpan Basin and date as far back as 3,000 years. Archaeologists have been excavating and studying the tombs since the 1970s and have found many well-preserved artifacts.

A shaman of 2,800 years ago from the Yanghai Tombs

A shaman of 2,800 years ago from the Yanghai Tombs ( Photo from the blog 840 x )

The Yanghai or Yang-Hai Tombs, a huge ancient cemetery, are in the Turpan Basin of Shanshan County, Turpan District, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of northwest China. The dry desert conditions have preserved mummies and other organic material.  People interred were nomadic pastoralists of the Subeixi culture. They were a steppe society, one of many groups who lived in and roamed the steppes and deserts of central Asia from China to the Ukraine. People of the steppe generally were and are) superb horsemen, a necessity for success in polo.

Scholars have theorized that polo matches took place in Xinjiang many centuries ago. The latest find supports the theory. Another supporting piece of evidence was the discovery in recent years of a polo field of 6,600 square meters (7,966 square yards) in Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County.

Chinese polo player statue, 7th century AD

Chinese polo player statue, 7 th century AD (Photo by Daderot/ Wikimedia Commons )

Polo has been played by royalty and people from the elite echelons of society since the sport, which is played on horseback, was invented in Central Asia. It was first used to train kings’ guards and elite cavalry unit. In ancient times, the sport was almost like a mock battle with up to 100 people on each side.

A famous event in the sport’s history occurred in China in 910AD when a favorite relative of Emperor Abaoji (A-pao-chi) was killed during the game.  As a consequence, the Emperor had all the surviving players beheaded.

Polo spread all over Asia and eventually the West

Polo spread all over Asia and eventually the West (Japanese print in the U.S. Library of Congress/ Wikimedia Commons )

Some historians, however, have argued that the true origin of the sport cannot yet be determined.

“Before history became a written endeavor, polo already covered a vast area from Constantinople to Baghdad, from Persia to China and Japan. The area was so vast that historians have been unable to establish where the sport originated or whom to credit for its invention,” writes The Polo Museum and Hall of Fame . “The earliest written accounts, more than 2,000 years old, were in Persian, Arabic, Byzantine, Chinese and Japanese. Records hint that polo stories had a long, oral tradition before the time of Alexander the Great of Macedonia.”

Wherever it was invented, polo today continues to remain popular among royalty and the aristocracy.

Polo has gone from a game played on huge dirt and grass fields in Asia in ancient times to a game played worldwide and, more recently, on fields of snow, in smaller arenas, on bicycles and in water with no horses. This is the Cartier Snow Polo Cup in Switzerland.

Polo has gone from a game played on huge dirt and grass fields in Asia in ancient times to a game played worldwide and, more recently, on fields of snow, in smaller arenas, on bicycles and in water with no horses. This is the Cartier Snow Polo Cup in Switzerland. (Photo by Frédéric de Goldschmidt/ Wikimedia Commons )

Featured image: An ancient ball and polo mallet from the Yanghai Tombs (Photo: www.china.org.cn)

By Mark Miller

Comments

JRobertAllen's picture

The first thing that caught my eye was the shape of the stick and the beveled inside cut.

I think its obvious that if thrown that it would return.   

Interesting side note that Carter found 11 boomerangs in Tutankhamun's tomb, one was similar to the stick shown above. 

i am not saying that the article is incorrect, I am simply looking at it from another direction, what if in this case - the balls are targets, and the stick is throw at them?

 
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