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This rare board game piece dates back to when Vikings first raided England

Archaeologists find game piece dating back more than 1,200 years

By Angela Garrity, Guest blogger 

Grettir’s Saga told “There is greater consolation than money” and a rare archeological find made the laborious digging worth it.

A blue and white rare gaming piece that's dated back to more than 1,2000 years
Photos: DigVenture/Durham University 

Science Alert reports that a 1,200-year-old board game piece has been unearthed on Lindisfarne, a small island off the coast of northeastern England that had huge religious and cultural significance. The piece is believed to be a “king” piece from the Viking board game hnefatafl ("king's table"), similar to chess. The piece is made of white and blue glass and is about the size of a small piece of candy or chocolate.

The piece originates from the 8th or 9th century during the beginning of Viking raids on Great Britain that would continue for the next 300 years. This finding is the second such glass piece to be discovered in the British Isles, making it quite the prize.

However, researchers aren’t won over that the game piece belonged to Vikings, regardless of the timing.

"Many people will be familiar with Viking versions of the game, and I'm sure plenty of people will wonder whether this gaming piece was dropped by a Viking during the attack on Lindisfarne," says archaeologist Lisa Westcott Wilkins, Managing Director of DigVentures. "We believe it actually belonged to a version of the game that was played by the elites of Northern Britain before the Vikings ever set foot here."

If the piece is from a local version of hnefatafl, it shows the growing influence of Nordic culture on the ancient monastery at Lindisfarne and the rest of the medieval Northumbrian region.

According to the experts at the dig, the discovery of the piece shows how Lindisfarne was a busy, vibrant place — far from the image of austerity and simplicity that's often associated with medieval Christianity.

“Watch your King,” as he is in danger of being captured on the next move — sounds like history and gaming are more strategically intertwined than one could possibly imagine.  

Related: Scientists reveal face of 1,000-year-old female Viking warrior

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