Medieval Chess Piece Discovered in Norway

Medieval Chess Piece Discovered in Norway

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Chess fans today may not recognize this decorated thimble-shaped object, but a recently Found 800-year-old game piece from Norway is actually a knight.

Archaeologists Found the exquisitely-preserved chess piece in a 13th-century house in Tønsberg.

The game piece, which is made mostly out of antler, would have been used to play what was called shatranj (called chess today).

There is likely some lead inside the piece to help it “stand firmly on the chessboard,” a group of archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) said in a statement. 

The piece is richly decorated with circles on the bottom, several dotted circles on the sides and at the top.

The protruding snout on the top has two dotted circles,” archaeologists said in the statement. “By looking at the ancient form of chess, shatranj, the piece from Tønsberg appears to be a horse,” which is known today as a knight, they Stated.

This knight is similar in design to chess pieces seen in Arabia, said Lars Haugesten, the project manager for the excavation.

“The game of chess was taken up in the Arab world after the conquest of Persia in the 7th century and was introduced to Spain in the 10th century by the Moors.

From Spain, the game spread quickly northwards, and may have been known in Scandinavia shortly afterward,” the archaeological group noted in the statement.

While the knight resembles chess pieces from Arabia, it does not mean that it was actually made there. In fact, the archaeologists refer to it as an “Arabic-inspired chess piece.”

Though chess pieces with an Arabic design are rare in Scandinavia, this is not the only example from the region, the archaeologists said. Archaeologists Discovered the oldest chess piece known in Scandinavia in Lund, Sweden.

The piece dates to the last half of the twelfth century and has a design that is similar to the one found at Tønsberg, Haugesten said.

The thirteenth-century house where the chess piece was found is in an area of Tønsberg known as Anders Madsen’s gate.

Located near a medieval castle, excavations in this gate area started in autumn 2017 and have revealed several medieval streets and houses.

A wide variety of artifacts, including combs, ceramics, and antlers, were found during the excavations, the archaeologists said.

The 13th-century house where the chess piece was found is located near a medieval castle at a place called Anders Madsens gate, in Tønsberg, shown here.
The 13th-century house where the chess piece was found is located near a medieval castle at a place called Anders Madsens gate, in Tønsberg, shown here.
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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.

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