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Rare medieval gaming pieces found in German castle

Archaeologists have discovered several sets of rare medieval gaming pieces during excavations of a previously unknown castle complex at Burgstein in Southern Germany.

Among the discoveries are preserved chess pieces, game pieces and a dice, all dating from the 11th to 12th centuries AD.

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The history of chess can be traced back to the 6th or 7th century AD, when its predecessor, a game called chaturanga, was played in parts of India.

After the Arab invasion and conquest of Persia, chess was adopted by the Muslim world and eventually spread to Europe through Spain and Italy around 1,000-years-ago.

“In the Middle Ages, chess was one of the seven skills that a good knight should master. In this respect, it is not surprising that known finds mostly come from castles,” explained Dr. Jonathan Scheschkewitz from the University of Tübingen, the State Office for Monument Preservation (LAD).

The gaming pieces were found in a previously unknown castle complex beneath the rubble of a collapsed wall. According to the researchers, all the finds are exceptionally well-preserved and even exhibit a shine when the pieces are held in different positions.

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The chess piece depicts a 4cm tall horse figure, while the other finds include four flower-shaped game pieces and a six-eyed dice made from antler.

“The discovery of an entire collection of games from the 11th/12th century came as a complete surprise to us, and the horse figure is a real highlight,” said Dr. Lukas Werther from the German Archaeological Institute (DAI).

The finds will be placed on public display in the “THE hidden LÄND” exhibition in Stuttgart, and in the special exhibition “Unearthed! Knights and Castles in the Echaz Valley” in Pfullingen.

Header Image Credit : University of Tübingen

Sources : State Office for Monument Preservation of Baden-Württemberg and the University of Tübingen

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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