Sunday, 3 January 2016

Norwegian medieval games

The Norwegian UNIMUS photoportal also contains photos of archaeological finds of  medieval board games, which will be shown in the photos below. Most of them concern game pieces. Basically, these game pieces can be divided into four different types: (1) chess pieces - as these are diverse game pieces that are usually more decorated; (2) flat backgammon type discs - sometimes decorated; (3) pawn-shaped game pieces; and (4) half-globose game pieces - the latter two are suitable for playing morris games or tafl-like games. Of the flat and half-globose types of game pieces many have been found and I will show only a few in this post. The game pieces were made from many different materials, including wood, bone, horn, antler, slate, stone, bronze and glass. Of course, also dice were found ubiquitously, but these look similar to the medieval dice found elsewhere and are not that interesting to show.

Disc-shaped game pieces

Two bone gaming pieces that could have been used for backgammon. Diameter is approximately 4 cm. 

A collection of medieval disc shaped game pieces made from bone, antler, stone and clay.

A clay wheel shaped game piece of ~4.2 cm.

Stone game disc from Trondheim.
Decorated bone discs from Bergen. 

Globose game pieces 


A half-globose game piece with a star on top.

Glass viking Tafl stones. The drawing on top also shows the underside of the game beads.

Bone game pieces with decorations. 
The decoration is similarly made as the pips on medieval dice.

Bone game pieces and some dice. The underside of one of the game pieces is shown as well.

Pawn-like game pieces


A game piece made from horn.

A bronze playing piece from Eidfjord. 2.1 cm height.

A turned horn gaming piece. 
Two bone gaming pieces.

A gaming piece from horn

This is perhaps a tafl piece  that is inserted into a hole in the board,
 like some pieces that have been found together with tafl-like gameboards. 

Chess pieces


Two turned wooden chess pieces, one die and two other bone game pieces. 
  A backgammon piece and two chess pieces.

A set of chess pieces and some dice. details of the bone king/counselor, pawn and rook are shown. 

 Chess pieces: a bone pawn and a wooden rook (tower).

Chess pieces: The king from Tjøme is made of wood and rather large. 
It has a height of 9.5 cm and the base measures 3.4 by 2.6 cm.

Game boards

Some pieces of a broken gameboard for a tafl like game. There seem to be at least 15 spaces on the board. 
Some chessmen are set on the board, as well as some dice.

Part of a 11 by 11 gameboard for hnfatafl in which the positions of the king and his defenders are marked with an X.

A square plate of gray slate set into a wooden board (21.5 by 20.5 cm). The slate disc is engraved on both sides with two diagonal lines from corner to corner. At the intersection in the middle is a hole to a pin. In each of the four corners are 5 similar holes found, of which 4 are approximately square and cruciform clustered around a central hole. The holes are connected partly by the two diagonals and partly by a transverse line. It is assumed to be a gameboard from medieval times; the iron fitting with bolt and nut is a later addition.



This game piece is a bit of an enigma. Domino is supposed to be invented (by Fán Laí) in 1120 in China, and to have travelled to Europe in the early 18th century. Domino pieces and dice are related, as the number of pips shown on the tiles are the same as found on two six-sided dice. So where do these medieval domino pieces come from? Have they somehow been mis-dated? Or are they dice? By the way, there is another domino piece that does not fit in the 'correct' time slot: one game piece was found in the Mary Rose shipwreck.  

Afterword:  Erlend Telefon who was present at the excavation has mentioned that these pieces are actually post-medieval. There seems to be a mistake in the unimus database. See his comments below.

Two wrongly dated as medieval bone domino pieces from Rogaland, Karmøy, Nord-Rogaland, Avaldsnes, 86


  1. I could not find a more direct way to contact you, but I feel I have to tell you that those domino pieces from Avaldsnes are not medieval (the very last picture). I was there as part of the team excavating in 2012, and personally found at least two of the three pieces pictured. The context was definitely postmedieval, with for instance clay pipes and other finds typical of the 17th and 18th centuries. They have to be later than 1600 at the very earliest, more likely after 1650.

    Where did you find your information? I would be somewhat sceptical of the dating of some of the other pieces pictured as well, several look postmedieval. Many of the others are on the other hand viking age or earlier, which in Scandinavia is not considered medieval.

    Please feel free to ask if you have any questions.

    Erlend Nordlie

    1. I was afraid this would be the case. Thanks a lot on letting me know. The information was on using the entrynumber of the photoportal. It dated the domino to stone-age to medieval; I found the latter more credible than the former. Apparently there are more mistakes in the database as some viking furniture look more like African tribal benches.

    2. stupid mistake ... I meant iron-age instead of stone-age

  2. A bit of a work in progress, apparently!

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  6. The object identified as a backgammon piece looks like it is actually a crossbow nut, the part that holds the string and rotates to release it.