Work or Play? An Unusual Stone Object


Here’s a funny find. My buddy Tobias Bondesson sent me these pics of a gneiss or granite object he’s found, measuring 30 by 28 mm in diameter and 20 mm high. The find spot is near Lee church in northern Jutland (the current stone structure there goes back to shortly after AD 1100), and the metal detector finds go back at least to the 8th century. What do you think it is?

As Tobias points out, the shape and dimensions are exactly what you’d expect from a Viking Period gaming piece. But it’s the wrong material. Those are almost exclusively made of bone, antler or horse teeth.

I have an idea what this may be. I think it’s an unfinished spindlewhorl, where it remains to drill it through for the shaft before it can be used. It’s a little on the small side, but to spin thin sewing thread, this would be the right sort of diameter and weight. Stone spindlewhorls are common finds.

Thanks to Tobias for permission to publish his photographs.

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26 thoughts on “Work or Play? An Unusual Stone Object

  1. If you had made a habit of walking across the nearby fields after ploughing and harrowing, preferably after a good rain, then you might have found that spindlewhorl decades ago. (-;


  2. I also want it to be a spindle whorl, although those pesky Vikings used bottom whorls mostly, and not top whorls as god intended. Please do post its weight…


  3. Thanks for the comments. The weight is just shy of 22 grams (almost 0.8 oz).

    @Amenhotepstein: Size, shape, and material speak in favor of it being shaped by man. But I guess one can’t be 100% certain. It might just be one half of a once round pebble…


  4. Of all those gazillion pebbles that the ice age left behind, at least some must look like Viking gaming pieces.

    The randomness may be an illusion. If the Vikings originally used pebbles as gaming pieces, that defined the rules of the game, and the (general) shape of all future pieces.


  5. Are there tool-marks on the surface? I believe you when you say “this is more consistent with being shaped by humans than shaped by non-human processes such as glaciers”, but I’m curious about what is used to identify such things. What does a trained archaeologist look for when examining pebbles and putative spindles or gaming pieces?


  6. A lot of it is wordless experience. When you dig you look at an enormous number of pebbles, and I have looked at a lot of gaming pieces and spindlewhorls in the museum stores.


  7. The people who see spindlewhorls in everything would tend to be spinners. The weight seems pretty right for a spindlewhorl, actually.


  8. I agree that the weight is about right for a spindlewhorl, and would add that there is nothing at all wrong with bottom spindles, they work just fine!


  9. I’ve only ever used a spindle with the weight at the bottom. In fact I’m having trouble picturing how one would work with the weight at the top.

    What it looks like is the sort of thing that is wrapped in coloured foil paper and used for weighing down helium balloons at parties and weddings. Mind you, the ones we’ve got still sitting around are made of concrete and are about 55mm across and 45mm high.


  10. It could be an prototype of a new game, yo-yo, or spinner… or possibly a weight for a net?

    Currently reading A New Human about Homo floresiensis, by Mike Morwood and Penny van Oosterzee. (Morwood gets his name in bigger letters, which means that van Oosterzee did 90% of the writing). It’s fascinating, but I wish it had been more carefully edited. However, it DOES mention 3-stone and 5-stone hearths, or rather groupings of water-rounded, fire-blackened and cracked stones.


  11. I have an interesting rock that was found somewhere in the Black Hills (near the Battle of Little Big Horn), I have supposition theory about what it truly might be, although I’d like to hear what other might think it could possibly be…


  12. … aah! I’ll see your point and raise my reason: the striated rock was merely to hold up the artwork and has no other purpose than to be a subject of some poetry – ‘I have traveled, turned the world over in my hand like a stone with attractive veining and this I have discovered: Man is happiest when there is balance between needs and possessions…’ beyond that lies the query… (hint: its near the center of the photo.;))


  13. Oh I see… Actually it appears more like an egg-cell embryo in-vitro if one were to study the rock itself -it is very peculiar in appearance, and appears to have been used extensively by some ancient culture, which is evident by the pitting in either bowl. My take on it would be that it was used for ceremonial purposes, perhaps smudging or for warpaint, maybe even for protection from hostile tribes. Needless to say, it was found in the Black Hills of Wyoming, which historically was the hunting grounds for the Lakota Sioux who ultimately decided Custer’s fate in the Battle of the Little Bighorn – which, as an aside I believe was the basis for Jame’s Cameron’s “Avatar”… But the rock itself is the strangest thing I’ve ever come across…


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