This study frames research on board games within a body of anthropological theory and method to examine the long-term social changes that effect play and mechanisms through which play may influence societal change. Drawing from ethnographic literature focusing on the performative nature of games and their effectiveness at providing a method for strengthening social bonds through grounding, I examine changes in the places in which people engaged in play over the course of the Bronze Age on Cyprus (circa 2500¬–1050 BCE), a period of increasing social complexity. The purpose of this research is to examine how the changes in social boundaries concomitant with emergent complexity were counteracted or strengthened through the use of games as tools of interaction.
Bronze Age sites on Cyprus have produced the largest dataset of game boards belonging to any ancient culture. Weight and morphological data were gathered from these artifacts to determine the likelihood of their portability and to identify what type of game was present. The presence of fixed and likely immobile games, as well as the presence of clusters of portable games, was used to identify spaces in which games were played. Counts of other types of artifacts found in the same spaces as games were tabulated, and Correspondence Analysis (CA) was performed in order to determine differences in the types of activities present in the same spaces as play.
The results of the CA showed that during the Prehistoric Bronze Age, which has fewer indicators of social complexity, gaming spaces were associated with artifacts related to consumption or specialty, heirloom and imported ceramics, and rarely played in public spaces. During the Protohistoric Bronze Age, when Cyprus was more socially complex, games were more commonly played in public spaces and associated with
artifacts related to consumption. These changes suggest a changing emphasis through time, where the initiation and strengthening of social bonds through the grounding process afforded by play is more highly valued in small-scale society, whereas the social mobility that is enabled by performance during play is exploited more commonly during periods of complexity.