Is this the world’s oldest existing mechanical puzzle?


In August 1984, in a BBC TV program entitled “City of the Dead” about the Indus Valley Civilization, the camera briefly showed a series of objects. One appeared to be a variety of familiar dexterity puzzle of rolling a ball up a conical hill.

Alas it was before I had a video recorder and the moment flashed by. However, I have since had a private viewing of the video at the BBC and eventually tracked the object down to The National Museum of Pakistan. It is 11.5 cm Diameter, 1.8 cm. High and comes from Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley 2550 BC - 2250 BC.

By happy coincidence when Professor Hoffman wrote his book “Puzzles Old and New” in 1894, the first puzzle he describes is “The Pick-Me-Up”. This appears to be almost identical and when lit brightly from both left and right it looks exactly the same. The Indus valley puzzle is not so tall and maybe the difficulty lies in preventing the ball rolling into a neighbouring groove rather than falling off the hill.

I have not been to the museum in Karachi to see the object and this is the only illustration I have. If anyone is planning to visit, I can give them the Acquisition Number and they can bring me back some better photos.


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