Humans have come a long way since the earliest years of civilization. We’ve developed thousands of unique languages, engineered mind-boggling technology, and built cities—complete with towering skyscrapers—from the ground up. But, at their core, have humans actually changed? Not really. Most “modern” humans still relish in the same things that their ancestors did hundreds of thousands of years ago—singing, dancing, painting, running around, telling stories, and much more. Sports started with our ancestors and continues with us. Here are some of the oldest sports in the world and how they got their roots.
Nowadays, we tend to associate gymnastics with extremely flexible individuals who gracefully flip and fly through the air. However, humans originally developed gymnastics as a method to prepare men for warfare. The ancient Greeks used gymnastics first, in 500 BCE. Later, the Romans used it for the same purpose. Though the military used gymnastics as a training method, everyday citizens came to enjoy it as a sport. It remained popular until 393 CE, when the Olympics were outlawed. Luckily, the sport recovered before it was lost to time. In the late 18th century, Johann Friedrich GutsMuths and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, two German-born doctors, decided it would make a good addition to their book Gymnastik für die Jugend, which detailed “delightful and amusing” exercises for young men.
This simple sport has roots that are hard to pinpoint. Numerous ancient civilizations portrayed wrestling in their art, but the oldest known depictions are found in the Lascaux caves in France. These cave paintings are estimated to be over 15,300 years old, making wrestling a top contender for “oldest sport of all time.”
If you’re a hockey enthusiast, you might be surprised to learn that your favorite sport dates back to antiquity—people played a crude form of it in nations such as Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Greece thousands of years ago. Hockey was known as shinty, and people played it by whacking a ball around with a stick. The first person to use the word hockey was Edward III of England, when he banned the sport (along with many others) in 1363 out of fear that people would abandon their archery lessons for more exciting recreational activities.
Many of the oldest sports in the world live on today. However, plenty of other popular sports, such as American football, are recent inventions. Just like humans, sports have come a long way since their inception. People invent new sports all the time, but the sense of competition and camaraderie that they evoke never changes.