Ancient Cities

Hand on a Wall

mene mene Rembrandt-Belsazar

logoDo you recall hearing the phrase, “We see the handwriting on the wall?”  It is used in the context that someone knows something is about to happen, implying, “they know where this situation is headed.”  I do not hear it in conversation much now, but it still occasionally pops up.  I confess it is one that I have always liked because I know where the phrase originated from.  Travel with me for a moment as we go back in time; a time when the world was ruled by empires, a time when kings had absolute power.

Our journey goes back to ancient times, many centuries before the Roman Empire.  Long before the time of Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire.  Even before the once mighty ancient Persian Empire that the Greeks conquered.  For a moment we will explore the ancient Babylonian Empire, around the 6th century B.C.   The one that had the famous, “hanging gardens of Babylon,” one of the eight wonders of the ancient world. A kingdom whose ruins are situated in present day Iraq.  A mighty empire that ruled over many other kingdoms.  The walls around Babylon were over 100 feet high, 30 feet wide, and circled the city state for miles.  Babylon ruled the Middle East for about 70 years and it’s power was unprecedented.  It  ruled it’s conquered subjects very harshly.  Most empires slowly decline.  This one came to an abrupt end all in a single day.

The story is told in the book of Daniel of the Old Testament.  gutenberg-bible-book-of-danielA short book whose author Daniel talks about a number of kingdoms past, present and future to his day.  Daniel was a very high ranking official who served in the King’s court.  He is also the one who you may have heard about that was thrown into a den of lion’s, but that is another story for another day.   Although Daniel honorable served the King, he revered and served God in his heart.  Daniel was blessed with much knowledge, wisdom, management skills, and the unusual ability to interpret dreams.  He served in the King’s court for many years under a number of successive kings.  He was old when the following event took place.

King Belshazzar held a great feast attended by a thousand nobles.  Much wine was flowing and the King ordered the gold and silver cups that had been removed from King Solomon’s Temple when Babylon conquered Jerusalem years before under a different Babylonian king be brought to the feast.  As they drank toasts from these goblets in honor of the gods of Babylon, they mocked the gods of their conquered peoples including the God of King Solomon.  At that very moment the fingers of a human hand wrote on the palace wall the following words,  Mene Mene Tekel Parsin.  No one knew what the words meant and King Belshazzar was filled with so much terror that his knees buckled under him.  None of the King’s enchanters, astrologers, or fortune-tellers could decipher the meaning.  Someone recalled a wise older official named Daniel who had been known to interpret dreams.  He was summoned.

BelshazzerThe King promised Daniel a gold necklace, a royal purple robe, and the third highest position in the land if he could tell the meaning of the words.  Daniel told the King to keep his gifts but he would reveal the message.

Mene means numbered:  God has numbered your days of your reign and has been  brought it to an end.

Tekel means weighed:  you have been weighed in the balances and have failed the test.

Parsins means divided:  your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

The book of Daniel records that very night Babylon was conquered, Belshazzar killed and Babylon was divided into 120 provinces.

Footnote:  For many centuries scholars debated if Babylon actual ever existed.  The ancient ruins of the city were discovered in the desert north of Arabia in the middle of the 19th century.  Historians and archeologists believe the Medes and Persians dammed up the river that flowed underneath and through the city allowing their soldiers to enter the fortified thought impregnable city.

On the game board for Treasure Trove one of the treasure spaces is titled “Kings and their Kingdoms.”

To learn more about the game go to  boxtop

El Dorado


I am not sure when I first heard the term ‘El Dorado.’  I know it was decades before the recent Indiana Jones movie where Harrison Ford is in the jungle of South America looking for a lost civilization.  I do not recall much about the movie except that the villain was a female Colonel Doctor.  That, and at the end of the movie everything exploded.  I have grown tired of the ‘aliens from space centuries ago established a civilization,’ theme that seems to infatuate Hollywood now days.  Instead of Egypt, it happened to be in the Amazon jungle. Whoever discovers the lost civilization may discover the power of these ancient aliens.  I enjoyed it far less than the original Indiana Jones movie in1981.

When I first created and played TreasureTrove in the late 1980’s with my kids, I placed El Dorado in the Amazon jungle of Brazil.  I placed a chunk of fool’s gold(pyrite) as the treasure to collect when landing on the space.  It was one of my son’s favorite treasures to collect while we played the game.  This was decades before the Indiana Jones movie.  Most books that I researched about South American treasure kept mentioning El Dorado.  That was the days before a person could just surf the internet.  As far the when the actual game was produced twenty years later, the treasure piece was a stack of gold nuggets, not a chunk of fool’s gold.


I recently watched a documentary titled “Lost in the Amazon,” about an famous explorer who went deep into the Amazon in search of a lost civilization of great wealth.  The British explorer named Col. Percy Fawcett was trying to find the fabled lost city he called  Z.  He never returned after one of his trips in 1925.  The documentary was one episode of a series called Secrets of the Dead.  Fawcett was probably as close to Indiana Jones as a person could be. It is thought he was killed, probably by hostile Indians.

In the 16th century the Spaniards reported large cities in the Amazon, and possessing great wealth.  In one such city it was said the king covered himself with gold dust.  That legendary city was referred to as El Dorado.  Because these fabled cities were never found they were deemed at best myths by the end of the 19th century.  That skepticism changed in 1911 when Machu Picchu was discovered.  It renewed interest in the possibility of the existence of El Dorado, and inspired Fawcett to carry out his expeditions.  Fawcett had received some information from an acquaintance who had done library research in Brazil and that there indeed reports by Spanish explorers of lost civilizations in the Amazon.  It is not known when but by the 20th century these cities were reported to have had stone buildings, some with Greek style letters on them.  In the last few decades as more land is being farmed in what was previously jungle, several large sites, some as big as 160 square miles with large earthen works, have been dug up.  Not cities of stone as legend says, but cities with large populations, well over 100,000 people.  The people of these cities were probably decimated by disease after encountering the Spanish.  The cities had been lost to the jungle for centuries, long before 20th century explorers such as Fawcett.  Cities this large very well could have obtained great wealth.  It is possible in time archaeologists will discover the lost gold of the past civilizations.  Even if they do not, I believe there is some truth to the fable city of El Dorado.

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Atlantis of Sands


Possible remains of ancient desert city of Iram

          All of us have heard of Atlantis, the fabled lost city.  Was it just a city or perhaps a civilization, even a continent?  I enjoy watching documentaries on Atlantis.  However, have you ever heard of Atlantis of the Sands?

         I’m not sure when or how I first came across the term.  Just as we in the West often hear about Atlantis,  the nomadic peoples of the Arabian Desert for centuries have spoken of a long ago city of wealth that was has been lost to the desert.  A city whose people turned to pleasure and worldly desires, and in time became so evil that God had to punish them.  The legendary city was said to have been destroyed by some great disaster such as an earthquake.  This story has been passed on from generation to generation for hundreds of years in the Middle East.  The Koran mentions the city as Iram, Ubar, and Eruma.  In many ways the story sounds like Sodom and Gomorrah.       

          When I was about ten years old I watched the movie Lawrence of Arabia at the theater.  It has since become a classic.  It seemed a bit long and I did not quite understand what was going on but the music and the vast desert scenes intrigued me.  As the years went by I saw the movie a few more times and began to piece together that Lawrence was a British officer who encouraged the nomadic peoples of the Middle East to fight the Ottoman Turks during World War I.  The Ottoman Empire with its capital in Turkey had ruled the Middle East for many centuries but was on the decline.  Many of the Arabian peoples wanted their independence from the Ottoman Turks so the British used this strive to incite rebellion and fight against the Turks.  The Ottoman Empire was allied with Germany during World War I and the British were trying to weaken the Turks as well as the Germans in the sands of Southwest Asia.  Oil was beginning to play a major role in world politics and at the end of the war Britian would want a stronger strategic position in the Middle East.  It also wanted to prevent more Germany and Russian influence in the region. 

Lawrence of Arabia

            William Lawrence befriended the desert nomads to fight against the Turks.  He live like them, traveled extensively with them, tried to think like them, and also dressed like them wearing the long desert tunics and head gear as protection form the desert sun.  He seems to have been well recieved by the Arabian people.  He was also successful in helping the Arabians fight the Ottoman Turks.  After Germany lost the war, the Ottoman Empire collapsed.  Out of the Ottoman Empire many new countries were established such as Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and Kuwait.  The British presence was also domonant in the region until the end of World War II when the British Empire began to shrink.  That is when America began to have more influence in the area, in large measure to keep the Russians out.   Lawrence of Arabia’s actions and success have obviously had lasting effects to this day.

            When Lawrence first hear the story about a lost city of the desert the people he was with called it Ubar.  He called it, “Atlantis of the Sands.”  That term will probably stick in Western cultures.  It was an interesting story but obviously revieced with much skepticism.  That is until about 80 years.later.  At the end of the 20th century NASA imaging radar helped locate a city in the southern Arabian Peninsula that had been swallowed by a desert earthquake almost 15 centuries ago.  Many believe this to be the fabled city of riches destroyed long ago.  Tales of legendary cities often have some basis in truth. 

Nasa imaging radar of Venus

          My mind does not do science as wellas I have aged.  The internet discusses Nasa imaging radar much better than I could ever explain so I yield to their expertise in explaining that topic better than I can.   The Arabian Desert still has a fascination to me.  I have done some desert hiking in the open spaces of West Texas.  Some were quite challenging but any of them would be minor compared to the vastness of the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula.  I have always wanted to do a camel trek but probably will never get around to doing one.

           I included Atlantis of the Sands in the board game Treasure Trove because it sounds intriguing, an element of adventure as you journey the world seeking lost fabled treasure.  Please visit our website at  


  On a footnote I occasionally will see a list surface in an editorial ranking the best movies of all time.  The movie Lawrence of Arabia is often in the top five.

Sahara Adventure

John Wayne desert adventure movie

          I have always been intrigued by movies filmed in the desert.  Lawrence of Arabia is a great movie.  A few years ago I watched Hidalgo which I also enjoyed.  It was also about that time when I recall seeing Sahara with Matthew McConaughey.  Recently I discovered an older movie I had never seen.  A  John Wayne and Sophia Loren film from the late 1950’s called Legend of the Lost.  I remember seeing a portion of the movie as a child but do not recall seeing all of the movie.  I love older movies, especially from the late 1950’s, and I enjoyed this one.

            The desert scenes were very well done as the movie was filmed in the North Africa country of Libya.  The opening scenes of the movie take place in Timbuktu.  The premise of the movie is searching for lost treasure in the Sahara.  In addition to trying to locate a hoard of gold and gems out in the middle of nowhere there is the drama of two men traveling with the beautiful Sophia.  She is indeed nice to look at.

 When I was creating the board game TreasureTrove I wanted to include some treasure from North Africa.  Oil is the greatest natural treasure ever discovered so I choose to place a treasure space on the board called Sahara Adventure.  A place where oil is discovered.  Most treasure spaces on the game board involve finding treasure such as gold, gems and sunken ships.  Other spaces involve adventurous experiences such as visiting lost civilizations and encountering strange creatures such as Big Foot and Lock Ness.

digging for dessert treasure

     The game involves collecting treasure as each player travels the world.  Most of us realize the true values of life are right in front of us, not discovering lost treasure.  The movie did a good job of touching on this very point.  There is a poignant scene where they are digging in the dessert for treasure, water that is, not gold and gems.  At the end of the movie they discover something of great value, more than gold and silver.  Yet, the allure of finding lost treasure always seems intriguing to humans.

           A booklet is included with the game describing each treasure space.  The following is the description:

  •                           Sahara Adventure:   While on a dessert safari you meet an African sheik who you later help to find oil in his North African country.  He rewards you well.



 If you elect to see the movie, it is a little bit slow in the beginning, but it is still enjoyable.  I also encourage you to visit our website at

Solomon’s Treasure


Solomon_Dedicates Temple_at_Jerusalem

           The fabled wealth of King Solomon is legendary.  He is thought to have been one of the richest men to have ever lived and many believe he was perhaps the wealthiest of all time.  If what he possessed in his time was compared to today’s prices, his net worth would easily outpace the richest people living in modern times.  He would have been richer than the oil baron John Rockefeller at the turn of the 20th century or the computer billionaires of the early 21st century.   

Israelite Temple

    His kingdom is written about in the Old Testament books of 1st Kings and 2nd Chronicles.  The vastness of his wealth and how he managed the Israelite Empire he ruled over is quite detailed in these accounts.  He lived almost three thousand years ago.  He oversaw the building of the Temple in Jerusalem for the Israelites to honor and worship God.  It was probably one of the most expensive architectural accomplishments ever completed.  Rulers from distant places, such as the Queen of Sheba, traveled to visit him and marveled at his great wealth.  It has been recorded that the utensils and drinking cups of his palaces were only of gold.  It was plentiful enough in his household that silver was not considered of much value.  (1st Kings, chapter 10, verse 21)


    Hundreds of years after King Solomon lived, the Babylonian Empire(located in present day Iraq)destroyed the Temple and looted the treasures.  Archeologists discovered Babylon in the mid 19th century but no treasures of King Solomon.   Yet his greatest treasure remains with us to this day:  his wisdom.  He is regarded as the wisest man who ever lived.  The recorded writings of his wisdom are in the book of Proverbs of the Old Testament.  The following is a sample of his inspired words:


                      “Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.  For wisdom is more profitable than silver and her wages better than gold.  Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.  She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left.”   

   Proverbs 3:13-16

       When players compete in TreasureTrove, they are trying to collect as many treasures as they can as quickly as they can.   Included in the playing of the game are situation cards that by chance allow players different options.  Some of the cards allow players to acquire more treasure, some cause a lose a turn, while some send players to different places on the game board.  There are also some cards that offer a quote of wisdom to remind of us life’s true treasures.   A sample of one of such card reads as follows:


            A card such as this one is not going to help one win the game but reminds us hopefully that  treasure is held in our hearts not just in our hands.


To learn more about the game go to

Timbuktu Treasure


Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

treasure troveWhen I was growing up, I often heard the phrase, “way out in Timbuktu.”  I just assumed it was somewhere a long way away.  I asked my older brother one day, “where is Timbuktu?”  He said, “Africa”.  I guess I didn’t give it much more thought, but it sounded cool.  Decades later when I was creating a board game to play with my children the term came to my mind.

The game involves players traveling around the world collecting treasure.  In the process of crisscrossing the world’s continents I wanted strange and exotic places to be encountered.  These would include tales of fabled lost cities such as Atlantis and Shangri-La. I thought of Timbuktu but had convinced myself that there was no such place.  It was a cute phrase that I heard as a child (way out in Timbuktu), but had grown to doubt any such place actually existed.

 Timbuktu on the TreasureTrove board game

The word “Timbuktu,” in several languages, including English, does refer to something such as, “a remote destination.”  In the past, the word Timbuktu was used more often than it is today.  During the 17, 18, and 19th centuries the people of Europe had a fascination with this legendary desert city of wealth. They had heard it was in Africa but did not know exactly where it was, or if it was indeed true or not.  It was not officially discovered by Europeans until almost the middle of the 1800’s.

Timbuktu is indeed a city located in the sands of the Sahara desert in the country of Mali, the northwest portion of Africa.  There are about 20,000 people living there today.  It remains a difficult travel destination.  Camel caravans still trek in and out of the city. Founded a millennium ago, by the 13thcentury, the city was a crossroads for trade caravans with salt and gold as important trading commodities traveling from West Africa to Egypt and the Middle East.  Because of the gold it was sometimes referred to as the African El Dorado.  This allure attracted European explorers who for centuries failed to reach the fabled city and return to tell of their exploits.  Many died trying to discover it due to disease or attacks by desert nomads.  By the time French explorers actually reached Timbuktu in 1828 they found it was anything but a city of gold.  There was not much wealth of any kind.  Mostly just mud huts with thatch roofs, much as it is today.  Time had passed the fabled city by and the desert sands were slowly reclaiming it.

One-Humped Camel

At its height in the 16th century Timbuktu had been a mecca for literary scholars within the Islamic faith.  The population at that time was as much as 60,000.  Many libraries with thousands of books existed in the city hundreds of years ago. These ancient writings and texts are the true Treasure of Timbuktu. Near the middle of the 20th century some literary scholars realized thousands of old books and manuscripts had been hidden in old  boxes and trunks among the homes of Timbuktu.  Many of these ancient documents had been passed from generation to generation buried in the sands as many of the residents consider these family heirlooms not to be sold.  As the centuries passed many were indeed lost to the sands of time.  Fortunately, almost 30 thousand manuscripts have been found and are being cataloged, stored and preserved at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu.  Some are 800 years old.  The writings cover the full gamut of topics including science, astronomy, medicine, Islamic law, and history.  Old writings and manuscripts continue to this day to be discovered by the residents of Timbuktu and throughout the desert area of Mali.  This has created some renewed historical and archaeological interest in the quiet and remote village of today.  Scholars are hopeful many thousands are still to be found but are concerned it may be too late for a number as many that are being found are almost too fragile to study.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       sOral history has always been an integral part of the peoples of the desert; however the number of ancient texts that have been found and continue to be unearthed in the desert sands around Timbuktu reveal a rich cultural history that needs to be preserved.  These priceless manuscripts are a true treasure to the African people of the Sahara.



 For a great board game adventure with treasure go to