Tracing the origins of dominoes takes us on a historical journey, with the earliest attributions pointing to China in the 12th century. However, the narrative is scattered with claims suggesting an even more ancient inception in Egypt and other parts of Asia. A domino set was found in King Tutankhamen's tomb, which dates back to the 18th dynasty in Egypt, around 1355 BC, now housed in a museum in Cairo. Yet, the oldest recorded Chinese domino set dates to 1120 AD. It's feasible that dominoes could have evolved independently across different cultures throughout history, much like the development of ordinary dice.
The chronicles of Chinese history present various tales regarding the creation of dominoes, although these are likely more myth than fact. One legend credits the invention to a soldier named Hung Ming (181 - 234 AD), who devised the game to keep his troops vigilant during night watches. Another tale suggests a 12th-century figure, Keung T'ai Kung, as the inventor. The ancient text "Chu sz Yam" (Investigations on the Traditions of All Things) narrates a story of an unnamed nobleman presenting the game to Emperor Hui Tsung, whose son, Kao Tsung, spread the game beyond China's borders. These accounts, while colorful, cannot be reliably confirmed as the true origins of dominoes.
Dominoes didn't make their way to Western societies until the 18th century, first documented in Italy. Their arrival in Italy is speculated to have been through the Far East trade routes, but the exact path remains a mystery. The game then fanned out across Europe, reaching England by the late 18th century—potentially brought over by French prisoners of war—and quickly became a staple in inns and taverns.
The term "domino" itself may have been inspired by the black dots set against a white background, similar to the appearance of a 'domino' hood worn by Christian priests in Europe. The name echoes the Latin "dominus," meaning "lord" or "master."
A close relationship is apparent between dominoes and spotted dice, suggesting that dominoes may have been modeled after dice, incorporating all the possible outcomes of two six-sided dice onto the tiles. The ancient Babylonians used numbered clay tiles for accounting, which may also serve as a conceptual precursor to dominoes. The creation of dominoes, it seems, might simply be the merging of game-playing dice with business accounting tools.