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Medieval Game Collection Unearthed in Germany

Medieval Game Collection Unearthed in Germany

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A team of researchers has unearthed a nearly 1,000-year-old collection of medieval gaming artifacts, including a rare and exceptionally well-preserved chess piece, game tokens, and dice. These finds were discovered at a previously forgotten castle site in the Reutlingen district of southern Germany, during excavations led by an international team of experts from the University of Tübingen, the State Office for Monument Preservation (LAD) in Stuttgart, and the German Archaeological Institute (DAI). 

Unveiling Ancient Gaming Practices 

According to a University of Tübingen press release, the discovery of these artifacts sheds light on the gaming culture of medieval European nobility. Among the finds is a knight chess piece, intricately carved from antler, along with four flower-shaped game tokens and a six-sided dice. 

Laboratory tests on these items revealed traces of red paint, suggesting that one side in the chess games played with red-colored pieces. Dr. Jonathan Scheschkewitz of LAD remarked: 

In the Middle Ages, chess was one of the seven skills that a good knight should master…. 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.

The chess piece, measuring approximately four centimeters (1.6 inches) in height, features detailed sculpting on the eyes and mane, indicative of the high craftsmanship typical of premium chess pieces from this period. This particular piece, along with the other gaming items, was found under the rubble of a collapsed wall, where they had been lost or intentionally hidden during medieval times. 

 Chess was one of the board games which was popular within medieval European courts.

Chess was one of the board games which was popular within medieval European courts. (totojang1977 / Adobe Stock) 

Insights into Medieval Chess 

Chess, which originated in the Orient and made its way to Europe over 1,000 years ago, has a rich history that is only partially understood. Finds like the knight piece from Reutlingen provide valuable insights into the early forms of the game and its role in medieval society. 

Dr. Michael Kienzle from the University of Tübingen added

The pieces were exceptionally well preserved due to the covering provided by the rubble. Under the microscope, we can see the typical shine from handling and moving the pieces.

This preservation allows researchers to study the wear and use patterns on the pieces, offering a glimpse into how these games were played nearly a millennium ago. The wear on the knight piece suggests the practice of lifting the knight when moving it was already established in the 11th or 12th century. 

This discovery highlights a remarkable continuity in the rules of chess over the centuries. 

The Significance of the Finds 

Well-preserved archaeological finds of chess pieces and other gaming artifacts from before the 13th century are extremely rare in Central Europe. The pieces discovered in Reutlingen represent a significant archaeological find. The detailed analysis of the red paint residues and the craftsmanship of the pieces will contribute to our understanding of the material culture of the time. 

Dr. Flavia Venditti from the University of Tübingen is currently conducting chemical analyses on the paint residues found on the pieces. The results of these analyses are expected to reveal more about the origins and uses of the gaming pieces, enhancing our knowledge of medieval European chess and other board games. 

 

The Royal Game of Ur and other ancient bard games are available now from Ancient Origins. (Ancient Origins) 

Exhibition and Future Research 

The medieval game collection, including the chess piece, game tokens, and dice, will be displayed to the public for the first time in June 2024. This exhibition will offer visitors a unique opportunity to see these rare artifacts and learn about the early history of European gaming. 

The ongoing research by the team from the University of Tübingen, LAD, and DAI promises to uncover more details about the gaming world of medieval nobility. Their findings will contribute to a broader understanding of the social and cultural history of the period, providing new perspectives on how games like chess were played and appreciated in medieval Europe. 

Top image: Chess piece, game piece and dice from the 11th/12th century. Finds from the 2022 archaeological excavation at Burgstein (Germany, district of Reutlingen). Source: Victor Brigola/ University of Tübingen 

 
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Gary

Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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