Some consider the cups & balls to be the oldest recorded magic trick, apparently depicted in paintings on the walls of Egypt's pyramids. Magic historian Bill Palmer states that we now know this to be a myth.
Palmer says that the most commonly thought of picture that may depict cups & balls is one from tomb number 15 at Beni Hasan. However, according to Palmer, the depiction is of potters or bread makers. He says that the confusion about the paintings originally came from S.W. Clarke, who was convinced that the painting depicted practitioners of cups and balls. This confusion was furthered by Milbourne Christopher in his “Illustrated History of Magic.”
If the activity depicted in the picture is cups and balls, there are no balls shown. Also, Palmer points out that performers rarely showcase cups and balls in pairs. (Editorial note - unless you're Penn & Teller.) Furthermore, in the context of the surrounding paintings, there are none that depict entertainment.
Palmer does feel that the Egyptians performed the cups and balls. It just doesn't show up anywhere. “I wish they had done just one statue of a fellow doing the trick for the masses!” says Palmer. “The earliest reference we have to the cups and balls is in a letter from Seneca the Younger to Lucilius sometime around 45 - 60 AD. There is also a reference to its performance in the writings of Alciphron of Athens, around 250 AD.”
For more information, you can visit Palmer’s Cups and Balls Museum by clicking here (password required).