13th Century Gambling Relics Discovered in Utah Cave

Dr. John Ives
Dr. John Ives / Dr. John Ives

Long before Las Vegas became the gambling metropolis of the Western U.S., there was a cave.

Researchers recently discovered hundreds of gaming artifacts from around the 1200s in a cave on the shore of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Among the items are dice, hoops, and canes, and it’s possible that as many as 10,000 pieces of these prehistoric board game baubles have yet to be found.

The cave—Cave 1 as it’s known—has been a treasure trove of artifacts since the 1930s. Other discoveries include carved elk and bison bones as well as moccasins, which once belonged to a group known as the Promontory.

Dr. John Ives, an archaeologist from the University of Alberta and expert on the Promontory cave complex, told Western Digs, “This to me can be seen as the intersection of three factors: remarkable preservation, a cave population that was thriving during its 20- to 40-year stay, and a real cultural predilection for gaming activities.”

One interesting aspect of the find is the implication that the Promontory people must have been doing well to have engaged in such involved recreation. The artifacts were discovered near the entrance of the cave, largely regarded as a social and domestic space, and might have served to forge ties among neighboring cultures in addition to being plain old entertainment.

Courtesy of Dr. Jack Ives

Courtesy of Dr. Jack Ives