Globe Map

Tylor was one of the first to have pointed out that games might be used to provide clues about cultural contacts. Holding the view that complex aspects of culture could only have arisen at one time in one place, Tylor pointed to games as providing evidence that civilization had spread "from South East Asia over the vast Malayo-Polynesian district as far as New Zealand". (Tylor, E. B. "Remarks on the Geographical Distribution of Games", Journal at the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 11, 1819, p.23.)

He also argued that games were brought to the North American Continent from the Asian mainland when a land bridge existed across the Bering Strait. (Tylor, E. B. "On American Lot Games As Evidence of Asiatic Intercourse Before the Time of Columbus," International Archives of Ethnography, Supplement to 9. 1896, pp. 57-67.)

There is no final agreement about theories of game diffusion made by ethnographers of an earlier period. For example the "court ball game" which is somewhat of a cross between soccer and basketball, played between the eighth and eighteenth centuries by the Mayas of Yucatan (Goellner, W. A. "The Court Ball Game of the Aboriginal Mayas," Research Quarterly, 24 (2), May, 1953, pp. 147-168.) - some have claimed that the Mayas originated the game and taught it to neighboring tribes ranging from as far north as Arizona to the southern tip of Guatemala. On the other hand, some scholars have stated that the game was taught to the Mayas by a tribe in Central Mexico, and yet others indicate that the game made its way north from South America. Mitchell suggested that all these ideas on diffusion of this game are wrong because it parallels a game played in Ancient Egypt! (Mitchell, E.D., Sports for Recreation, New York: Ronald Press, 1935.)


Perhaps 5000 years ago or more some games may have had their origins in the lower river valleys of the Nile, and spread east to Sumer and Babylon from Egypt, or these games may have had their origins in the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris in Sumer and Babylon and spread west to Egypt. On the other hand, these games may have originated in Northern India and spread southwest to Babylon and Egypt!

Map of Europe

In any case, these games next spread west to the Greeks, and also south to other parts of Africa. From Greece, games spread west to Sicily, Italy, and north to Anatolia and southern Russia, and Rome. From Rome, games spread west to France and Britain, north to Germany and Denmark, east and south to other places where peoples had contact with Roman Legions. Some games were introduced from Scandinavia west to Britain, Wales, and Ireland, and to the North American Continent.

Map of Far East

Some games may have had their origins in Northern India and the Indus River valley. These games were spread east to Nepal, Tibet, and China. Later, according to some, from India games went west to Persia, then south throughout India to Ceylon and Indonesia. From Persia they may have traveled west to Egypt.

Some games may have originated in China and went east to Korea, Japan, and south to Indonesia, and the Malay Archipelago and South Pacific Islands; possibly with very early interchange with the North American Continent.

Later, Crusaders brought games home to Europe from the Middle East, and games from the the Middle East went to North Africa, to the Iberian Peninsula, and parts of Asia with Arab traders. European colonists taught their games to native populations in the Americas, in the islands in the Pacific, and in Africa, and then brought local games home to Europe and to the Americas. Central African and Oceanic peoples taught their games to missionaries and who in turn taught these to others. (Murray, H.J.R., A History of Chess, London: Oxford University Press, 1913.)

Finally, some games may have originated in China and went to North, Central, and South America during the Bering Strait migrations. These people taught their games to Europeans who in turn took these games back to Europe.

Thus, according to diffusionists, games have crisscrossed many nations and cultures at various periods of history as a result of commerce, warfare, exploration, education, and a host of other reasons.

Last update December 21, 2009