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Re: 13x13 Tafl

Posted: Fri Feb 24, 2012 7:29 pm
by Hagbard
Beadle wrote:

Adam- I agree about the board markings on the Gokstad board. The markings could have been used for a different game, or perhaps they were irrelevant. We will never know.

I know of at least one other 13x13 board that has been found, in the Faroes. It's the one that seems originally to have been a serving platter, but was carved into a board game.
I can find very little information about this board, and I'd love to see a picture of it. It is mentioned on this page:
From the sketch on that page, it looks like the center square had a cross in it. That suggests Tafl to me.


Posted: Thu Sep 13, 2012 2:23 am
by crust
A supposed hnefatafl board has been found by archaeologists working on the Brough of Deerness, Orkney. ... e-vikings/

From the report:

Perhaps the most “fun” [discovery] though, was the discovery of a viking gaming board, which subsequently went on display at the Deerness in 100 Objects exhibition. “Some of the things from the site are objects that have to do with its existence as a chiefly settlement and there are others which are just about the people who lived there and the lives they led, and one of these is a viking gaming board,” said Dr Barrett.

“It’s actually a Hnefatafl board, a viking game which is a cross between draughts and chess. “It’s got a centre king piece and pawns round it and we’ve also found a number of disc-shaped gaming pieces carved from stone or antler. One of them is quite fun because it’s carved in the shape of a sword pommel.”

Dr Barrett continued: “Whoever made it didn’t take a lot of care over it as the lines are all wobbly. It’s just something that someone’s made some dark night, maybe after they’ve had two or three drinks.”
brough of deerness orkney.jpg
What do you think of it? I think it's unlikely to be a game board - firstly because it's clearly eight by nine squares, and secondly because if you were going to make a board THAT carelessly, you wouldn't carve it in stone, you'd just draw it on the ground with a stick. I don't know what this irregular grid is, but can you seriously imagine using this as a playing surface for a game of hnefatafl? Could it be part of a quern instead? The carved lines might help in grinding corn, and the central depression could be where the two halves of the quern fit together and rotate. Admittedly quern stones are almost always circular. This is a quern stone:

Re: archaeology

Posted: Thu Sep 13, 2012 4:01 pm
by crust
Hi Roderich,
Yes, the gaming pieces are an interesting detail, though their presence doesn't prove anything, as boards and pieces are rarely found together. Shame we can only see one of them. It's quite odd that they say "carved from stone or antler" - don't they know whether it's stone or antler? Or are some of them stone, and others antler? Perhaps the "white" pieces are made of antler, and the "black" ones from stone. That would make sense. We need more pictures. If the discs really are playing pieces, then maybe this "board" really was played on, somehow, despite the fact that it's only eight by nine squares, and its irregularity must have made the games nearly impossible to play. But it looks much more like what you suggested, a child's version, or maybe a doodle made by someone who had seen a hnefatafl set, and tried to copy the look of it without any real understanding. Well, we can't possibly know of course. But then, neither can Dr. Barrett, so he shouldn't be so sure that this really is a hnefatafl board. To me, that depression in the middle looks like the result of being worn away by a circular movement, maybe some twisting or grinding is involved - I still say it's most likely some sort of pestle or crude quern.

Re: archaeology

Posted: Wed Oct 10, 2012 5:09 pm
by Hagbard
13x13 Tafl. Wilhelm_Meis wrote:
Beadle » 24 Feb 2012, 19:29

I know of at least one other 13x13 board that has been found, in the Faroes. It's the one that seems originally to have been a serving platter, but was carved into a board game.
I can find very little information about this board, and I'd love to see a picture of it. It is mentioned on this page:
From the sketch on that page, it looks like the center square had a cross in it. That suggests Tafl to me.
That board is from Toftanes, in the Faroe Islands, and it has an odd shape for a game board, but it appears to have been marked for tafl on one side and another game (perhaps nine men morris?) on the other. This was clearly an amateur effort, as the concentric boxes on the morris side show poor symmetry, and the lattice on the tafl side is stretched to the odd shape of the board and appears to have one too many rows on one side. The 'central' cell is marked with a cross, if one presumes this to be about half of a 13x14 cell grid, the marked square being the 7th cell from the left edge, the 7th cell from the bottom edge, and the 8th cell from the right edge. I think we have enough information to infer that a 13x13 cell grid was intended, and the 14th row was a mistake. Again, the sloppy work on both sides shows this was clearly an amateur effort. Any grid from 10th century Faroe Islands with a marked central cell must have been made for tafl play.

There is a good quality photo of this board (made of oak, by the way) in From Viking to Crusader. Ed. Else Roesdahl and David Wilson. New York: Rizzoli, 1992. ISBN 0-8478-1625-7. The Toftanes board is entry #321, appearing on p. 311. If you watch Amazon, sometimes you can find a copy available for under $100 (US), and this book is well worth it if you do. Otherwise, try borrowing it through inter-library loan.

Re: 13x13 Tafl

Posted: Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:29 pm
by crust
beadle wrote:I know a number of people at my school who are pretty good at this game. I'd start a club for it if I were going to stay at this school.There's a chance I'll start a Tafl club after I transfer to a four-year college though. That would be fun.
That's good news! we all know a few people who play - maybe we can persuade them to play here at aagenielsen as well. Please keep us in touch with your researches and any progress on a tafl club, Beadle!
Wilhelm_Meis wrote:a 13x13 cell grid was intended, and the 14th row was a mistake. Again, the sloppy work on both sides shows this was clearly an amateur effort.
I'm enormously happy to see the name "Wilhelm Meis" among the contributors to this forum - a colossus of taflology. I looked up the book you mentioned - (From Viking to Crusader) it's very expensive, but I'll try the library. The Toftanes board is an intriguing and frustrating artefact. Presumably it could be dated exactly by dendrochronology. I recently visited a medieval painted room in Castle Cary UK, where the timbers have been dated to the spring of 1435 by this method. The "sloppiness" is interesting too; as a player, I can't imagine using a board with an accidental extra row along one side - when combined with the wobbly lines, it would make play hopelessly confusing in a complex game like hnefatafl. I guess it's frustrating because it raises more questions than it answers, just like the Gokstad and Deerness boards and others.

Re: archaeology

Posted: Mon Oct 29, 2012 8:23 pm
by crust
Argyll, Scotland.

Just trawling the net looking for ancient hnefatafl boards, and found this:
This is from a hillfort site in Argyll, Scotland, called Dun Chonallaich, and was found in 2008. It looks like a six by six grid, but if you imagine that they might have played on the line intersections (like Go or Alea Evangelii) you've got a seven by seven grid with suggestive marks around the center, where the King's men would be placed. ... -hillfort/ :ugeek:

Re: Berserk Hnefatafl

Posted: Sat Jul 06, 2013 7:34 pm
by cyningstan
Hagbard wrote:One could wonder how chess can have a lady on the battlefield. I read somewhere that once upon a time the chess game had four players and four armies. Then at some point the armies were merged into two armies and two players; this should be why the officers are doubled into pairs. But as one side cannot have two kings, I suppose one of the kings had to be changed into the queen. How far the queen name goes back, I don't know, but we learn from "The Tudors" and other history series the strength of intrigues at medieval court and how many a nobleman lost his head in a court intrigue as easily as in the battle. Maybe the extreme power of the chess queen piece comes from this? (Though from this logic the chess queen should kill her own pieces!)
I seem to keep resurrecting old threads, but I have Murray's 1913 History of Chess whose 900 pages go into detail on these questions, and Parlett's 1999 History of Games which brings a few things up to date. Nineteenth century chess historians thought that the 4-player version with dice was the original chess, but by Murray's time the idea had been discredited - the 4-player variants date from no earlier than about A.D. 1000. You can see some information about them on my board game site - see under "Printable Documents" for an A5 printable leaflet of rules.

About the queen - she used to be a minister (called firz or fers in the game Europe got from the muslims - cognate with vizier maybe?) and until 1490 used to move 1 square diagonally, his job being to cover the king. As an aside the bishops used to be elephants, very agile ones too, as they jumped like a knight, but always moving exactly two square diagonally, never more, never less. These moves are partially preserved in Xiang Qi.

And for something more relevant, about the pieces pictured further up in the thread. The glass pieces are pictured in either James Graham-Campbell's Viking Artefacts, or From Viking to Crusader edited by Else Rosedahl, I can't remember which now. But only eleven of the blue ones are mentioned, and the amber ones are not mentioned at all. The web site from which the photograph comes seems to suggest the amber ones are from a different set, albeit at the same site. The glass ones are dated to about A.D. 800, the museum web site refines this to A.D. 779. I mention them on my tafl site (under the alternative name of the archaeological site, Gunnarshaug), and until I find a proper archaeological report about the pieces that I can read I'll be leaving the description there as it is for now.

Re: Hnefatafl Review - the Journal of the World Tafl Forum

Posted: Mon Nov 04, 2013 2:31 pm
by Adam
What a great idea :)

I'm in. I'd happily contribute with article writing and illustrations. I also have some good links with norwegian museums who hold a good number of the important tafl remains. So I would probably be able to get access to images or even rephotograph artefacts easier than most. I have been lucky enough to get my (gloved) hands on the gokstad board and game piece as part of a gokstad ship exhibition project I art directed. So perhaps a fun article might be 'the gokstad board, hnefatafl or not?'

I'm also busy trying to decode/deconstruct the alea evangelii manuscript with a biblical scholar friend. So if that bares fruit there could be a fun article there in the future.

I think the lulu idea is very good too.


Re: Hnefatafl Review - the Journal of the World Tafl Forum

Posted: Wed Nov 06, 2013 10:10 am
by Adam
All good suggestions.

Perhaps we can agree on a maximum/ideal word count for articles? A side of A5 can mean various things ; )

Serialising longer articles is a nice idea, though perhaps not if it is an annual publication. I think it would need to be monthly for serialisation to work well. One could have a taster or abstract of longer articles with links to the full paper perhaps? We could see what kind of material people would like to produce, and then decide how often it should be publicised.

I am keen to write a short piece about the gokstad board, I have a good contact with the cultural history museum in Oslo, so can get some kind of interview with the archeologists who specialise in that piece. I also have some good and entertaining photos of the board and game piece.

I would suggest we try to keep on the 'popular' side of science writing, to avoid things being too dry or laborious for the general reader, who may well be curious about the game but not yet passionate, or who may well be a young reader. Again, we could have links to more complex articles if people are interested to delve deeper. Keeping the articles fairly short would be a good way to make this happen automatically.



Posted: Tue Jan 21, 2014 2:30 pm
by Hagbard
Saaremaa, the Salme ships, and the Kaali meteor crater.

Two viking ship burials discovered in 2008 near Salme village in Saaremaa, Estonia.

Saaremaa is the largest island outside the Estonian mainland, and is a wellknown and important island through Scandinavian history, Danish name Øsel, Swedish Ösel. Ösel was the gate to the river Dvina, Eastern Europe and Constantinople. (The other possible route was through Ladoga).

The town arms of the island is a Viking ship! And this has been long before anyone knew about the hidden Salme ships.

In Salme there was a fierce battle in 700-something, and 42 Vikings were killed. They were buried in two ships along with their possessions. Among these a number of hnefatafl game pieces, some sources say 71 ordinary pieces and a king piece.

The king piece was placed in the mouth of the most distinguished person, to judge from his weapons, belongings and placement in the ship, he must have been the leader.

So here we have real Viking age people at sea and remembering to bring their hnefatafl games. And the hnefatafl king piece is so charged with importance that it is used by his surviving men to point out the war lord.

The hnefatafl game pieces can be seen here: ... gaming.jpg

More information about the discovery here: ... 20shipfind ... remaa.html
and the complete, scientific paper

(Hat tip: Olli Salmi)

The Kaali meteor crater.
Saaremaa is an island full of history. Another distinguished place on the island is the Kaali meteor crater.

The meteor impact caused an explosion the same size as the Hiroshima bomb, and the Danish scientist Kaare Lund Rasmussen (archaeometry) and his team determined the time of the impact to be 400-370 B.C.

The meteor impact was noticed by people (iron age), and eye witness traditions can be traced in historical sources.

Until 1800 the name of the meteor lake from ancient times was "the sacred lake".

98 A.D. Tacitus wrote, that the Estonians worship the mother of gods, which is usually identified with Cybele, a goddess associated with meteorites.

The Greek Pytheas reports 325 B.C. from an island in the Baltic Sea, "the barbarians showed us the place, where the sun went to bed".

The impact is also mentioned in the Finnish Kalevala epic.

The Estonian president Lennart Meri, who was also a historian, thanked personally Rasmussen for his discovery, because the time measurement 400-370 B.C. supports the Estonian legend, which tells that the myth of Ragnarok started at Kaalijärv.

Kaare Lund Rasmussen's scientific paper (June 5th, 2000) is here: ... 1493.x/pdf

and a lecture by Rasmussen on the same subject, sent in Danish Television June 26th, 2012:

(I visited the charming island Saaremaa in 1995 myself and saw the Kaali crater, the Kuressaare castle and museum and other historical places.)