More Viking Period Amber Gaming Pieces

i-5355649bb87687e74f80cd6e1e60146e-KLM_904_1_2_DIA_15733_1.jpg

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As told here before, in 2005 I was lucky enough to take part in unearthing the first set of amber gaming pieces to surface in Sweden for over a century. They were in a boat inhumation burial at Skamby in Östergötland. I believed that only one such set had been found before in Sweden, by Hjalmar Stolpe in the late 19th century when he excavated the cemeteries of Birka. The Birka grave in question (Bj 524) is a weapon inhumation with a silver coin dated tpq AD 909.

Then Pierre of the AHIMKAR blog pointed out that there’s actually a third set of amber gaming pieces.

i-84fa1b3c33af7b435e7719d5aa21ed14-KLM_904_1_DIA_15733_2.jpgThey were found in the 1870s by non-archaeologists during construction work at Harby in Småland not far from Kalmar. Harby has several rich cemeteries that were heavily looted at the time. My old buddy Birgit Körge at the Kalmar County Museum kindly provided me with the appended pics and what little contextual information there is to be had. (Birgit and I go way back. The first time she helped me access finds and inventory notes in Kalmar was in 1992 when I was a 19-y-o undergraduate!)

The Harby gaming set (KLM 904:1-2) most likely also originates from a Viking Period grave. Most of the 13 or 14 preserved pieces are similar to the Birka ones, with a narrowed base. But the king piece, necessary to play tablut/hnefatafl is what really makes the set stand out: it’s a little figurine of a bearded man!

I wonder if any of these three amber gamers ever played each other after a day’s trading in Birka.

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4 thoughts on “More Viking Period Amber Gaming Pieces

  1. These are gorgeous! Does anyone know what kind of games would have been played with pieces like this? Is amber common in your area, or would it have been traded from somewhere else?

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  2. We have an inkling about what the game was like from Icelandic Medieval literature and a game documented among the Saami in the 18th century by Carolus Linnaeus. See hnefatafl.

    The amber came from the southern shores of the Baltic or coastal SW Jutland.

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