As with many classic games that have been played for thousands of years, the true origin of dominoes is not definitively documented and requires some historical speculation. Based on the numbering system of dominoes, it’s almost certain that they were inspired by dice and are probably nearly as old. The very first set of dominoes was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt, and would date back to somewhere around 1355 B.C.! References to dominoes in Chinese literature date back as far as 1127 B.C., but the earliest known set that has been found from China dates only to 1120 A.D. And there is some evidence that dominoes may have been played in India even before that. Dice were invented independently in a number of different cultures, and it’s very likely that the same thing happened with dominoes as well.
Whatever the case, the games commonly played today date back to Europe in the early 1700s. The Chinese set from the early part of last century uses 32 tiles, but the variety that is more common today uses 28 tiles which show all combinations of digits from one to six. The seemingly long delay before European introduction of the game may be explained by it developing independently there rather than being imported from China. In Italy and France dominoes quickly became a popular means of both recreation and gambling, but were also used to settle land disputes between neighbors. The latter practice transferred to the English countryside in the 1800s. The name “domino” originates from a dark hood commonly worn by members of the church and a dress used for disguise and at costume parties in Italy. The extreme popularity of dominoes in Caribbean and Latin American countries probably stems from European colonization during the period.
The consistent worldwide popularity of dominoes is thus not surprising. As dice developed across cultures, dominoes quickly followed behind them, greatly expanding the range of possible games that could be played with combinations of digits.