Metal detectorist unearths 1,150-year-old Viking board game

Started by gash, September 17, 2020, 10:08:07 am

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A metal detectorist has unearthed a viking board game in Lincolnshire dating back to 872 AD.

Mick Bott, a retired miner, made the rare discovery of a complete set of 37 pieces used in Hnefatafl -- a chess-like game popular with soldiers for its strategic nature -- at a site next to the River Trent.

The 73-year-old had spent 20 years searching for items at the location where, thanks to his efforts, historians now know Vikings set up camp throughout the winter of 872 AD.

From his first detecting session at the Torksey site in 1982, Mr Bott and two fellow detectorists unearthed hundreds of coins, strap ends, brooches, and mounts, all of which were from the ninth century.

"It was later on after showing many of our finds to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge that the experts realised that this was the Viking winter camp of 872/3 when several thousand men of the Viking army overwintered," Mr Bott said.
Despite the work of Mr Bott and his friends leading to this historical breakthrough, nobody was aware of the significance of the dozens of small lead objects they also discovered during their years at Torksey, according to Nigel Mills, an artefact consultant with auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb.

"They thought they were lead weights, basically," Mr Mills told The Independent. "The Vikings hacked a lot of silver and gold up into useable pieces, which had different weights, so they needed weights to decide [how heavy] they should be. However, when I weighed them, none of them matched - there was no consistency to them -- and I thought it was very strange, but that was the theory at the time.

"It was only when I was in Oslo Museum that I realised they had two of these gaming pieces out of polished stone from this game Hnefatafl, which match the conical lead weights that Mick had. So I realised that there was a connection and I discussed it with Mark Blackburn at the Fitzwilliam and he agreed that these were gaming pieces."

Mr Mills believes it is the oldest complete set of pieces ever found at one site.

"What's really intriguing is when you think of the army of thousands of men, Viking warriors, all sitting around playing this board game. It's really weird," he said.

The purpose of the game is for the defender to move the king to one of the corner squares, which are designated as castles, as the attacker tries to surround the king on all four sides to prevent him from moving.

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