Wrestling is considered to be the oldest sport in the world. There are cave paintings dating back over 15,000 years that show people engaged in the sport. This is of little surprise as the sport requires no props and is only a small jump away from actual fighting. The idea that it became the first proper sport makes sense. However, archaeologists have found evidence that shows bowling is a very old sport as well, perhaps 5,000 years old in total. While not as old as wrestling it is remarkable that a sport that had no simple evolution from daily activities came to pass.
Many people credit the origins of bowling with Egyptians. This is because one man, in particular, did some incredible excavation work in Egypt in the late 1800s. William Matthews Flinders Petrie was one of the leading Egyptologists in the world and was loved by many for the historic finds he made. He was so meticulous in his approach that he took notes of everything he found.
In 1895 Petrie worked on excavating an ancient cemetery. The graves were of Egyptians at the time and all had been buried with items that they could use in the afterlife. Some of the graves belonged to kids and here Petrie found evidence of different games. In one grave he found 9 stones that appeared to have been carved and shaped to look like modern-day pins. They would only stand on one side with a flat surface while the rest was curved. In the same grave, Petrie found four marble-sized balls.
While the items were not found together in the grave it makes sense that the four balls and nine vase-shaped stones were together in an early form of bowling but of course, it is possible that these items were not related at all and that the child was just an avid juggler or something else entirely. It is strange that no other artifacts have been found from that time that could be linked with bowling.
Perhaps Petrie was just a fan of bowling and was letting his imagination get carried away. At the time of his discovery bowling was becoming very popular in America. In the same year as his discovery, the American Bowling Congress had been formed. Bowling was on everyone’s mind.
There have been many finds that link to bowling throughout history. This means that if the Egyptians didn’t invent it, it was still a very old sport. Some say the Romans invented it but what they had in place was balls hitting balls, something much closer to the game we know as lawn bowls today. In 300 AD Germany, it was noted as a religious ceremony. Those who could hit the pins were seen as blessed and those who couldn’t were forced to receive a penance.
In the 1300s the game was seen as widely popular. So popular in fact that it was banned in many places as it was seen as both promoting gambling and distracting army troops. The game had become a public nuisance. It was 1895 than when the first organized body was formed that bowling would get a standard set of rules and be seen as more than a distraction, it was a sport.
While 1895 marks the first day in the history of bowling as an official sport it is unclear how far the original game dates back. The evidence suggesting it dates back all the way to Egyptian time, while not complete, is compelling. The evidence brought forward by Petrie, who was seen as a meticulous excavator, likely means that bowling is one of the oldest games in the world.