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Norwegian archaeologists find richly decorated ancient chess piece

By comparing the piece with ancient forms of chess, the researchers note that the piece appears to be a horse or a knight.

By: Science Desk | Kochi |
January 12, 2022 6:11:04 pm
chess pieceThe protruding snout on the top has two dotted circles. (Lars Haugesten, NIKU)

Archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) have found a small medieval chess piece during an excavation at the Anders Madsens Gate in Tønsberg.

They found it in a house that dates to the 13th century. But what fascinated the researchers more was the Arabian pattern on it. “The design of the piece has an abstract shape and is designed according to Islamic tradition, where no human figures are to be depicted,” said the project manager for the excavation, Lars Haugesten, in a release.

The piece, 30 mm in height with a diameter of 26 mm, is made of antler and is decorated with several dotted circles. “No previous archaeological finds from Tønsberg have such details, which emphasises that this chess piece is a unique object,” added Haugesten.

“The oldest find in the Nordic region is from Lund, Sweden, dating back to the last half of the 12th century. That piece is similar to the find from Tønsberg.”

By comparing the piece with ancient forms of chess, the researchers note that the piece appears to be a horse or a knight. “In Norway, some chess pieces from the Middle Ages have been found but (only) few similar knights. For example, in Bergen, more than 1,000 gaming pieces have been found. Of these, there are some chess pieces but only 6 abstract knights,” says Haugesten.

During the excavation, in addition to the chess piece, the archaeologists found ceramics, metal, combs and antlers. Several houses and streets were also discovered.

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