Retired miner Mick Bott, a 73-year-old metal detectorist, found a rare complete set of Viking gaming pieces, which will be up for sale next week. He made the find in a field in Torksey, Lincolnshire, where Vikings were said to have formed a winter camp in AD 872.
According to history, the camp served as their defensive and strategic position during the winter as they prepared to invade England.
The Viking chess pieces were part of a board game called Hnefatafl, a strategic board game similar to chess and were popular among soldiers in-charge of teaching battlefield strategy.
It will be auctioned at the London-based Dix Noonan Webb (DNW) on Tuesday, September 15, and is expected to sell for $1,299 (£1,000).
Rare Viking Chess Pieces
Metal detectorist Bott had been collecting items for two decades at the field where he found the Viking chess pieces. According to the experts in DNW, Bott came to them, bringing a plastic bag full of Viking relics unsure of their value.
Aside from the Viking chess pieces, Bott also found some coins, strap ends, mounts, brooches, and lead dates, which can be traced back in the 9th century. The research on these findings were published in 2016 in the Antiquaries Journal.
A closer inspection of the lead weights and a comparison between the same Viking game pieces in the Oslo Museum confirmed that they were indeed pieces from such board game, Mills said. He added that the pieces seem like a time capsule from when Vikings would use to play this game a thousand years ago.
Experts at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge have also verified the said pieces that were authentic pieces of the Viking chess. Mills remarked that it is impressive to have all 37 pieces found at the same time because usually, they are found only after returning several times at the site for over a long period of time.
DNW commissioned a board to be handmade made from timber since its original board was not found, and it will be included in the auction. That means, whoever wins the bid for this Viking chess will be playing the same pieces that Vikings used over 1,150 years ago.
Hnefatafl: The Viking Chess
According to Mills, Scandinavian players of Hnefatafl would use polished stones instead of lead as it deteriorates in the extreme cold, and they do not have access to it. But it seems that they have access to lead in Torksey, where the Viking chess pieces were found, so it was easier to make them.
Hnefatafl popularity peaked during the Dark Ages in Northern Europe, which has developed over the last centuries until it has now come to new variants under the term ‘Tafl,’ which is played like a chess game with two players and the pieces follow a distinct pattern.
Each Hnefatafl set consists of 37 pieces, in which 12 are for defense in turreted form, 24 attacking pieces in a spherical form, and a king with a copper decoration.
Just like in chess, an opponent’s piece is removed from the board once the enemy pieces occupy two opposite squares. But as opposed to chess, the enemy needs to sandwich the piece on opposite sides to land on the same square.
The game’s purpose is for the defender to move one of his or her king to the corner squares while the attacker prevents it from moving by surrounding the king in all four sides.
Experts said that the game was very strategic, and it is the first time that a complete set is found at the same time. The Viking chess discovered by Bott will be auctioned on Tuesday at 1 pm with a starting price of $1039 (£800).
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