A rare complete set of Viking gaming pieces has been put up for sale after being discovered in a field by a metal detectorist.
Retired miner Mick Bott, 73, made the find at a site in Torksey, Lincolnshire, where the Vikings formed a winter camp in AD 872.
The camp was used as the Vikings’ defensive and strategic position during the winter months as they prepared to conquer England.
The pieces were part of a strategic board game called Hnefatafl, which is similar to chess and was popular with the soldiers in teaching strategy on the battlefield.
The set is expected to sell for £1,000 when it goes up for auction at London-based Dix Noonan Webb (DNW) next Tuesday, September 15.
The early board game entitled ‘Hnefatafl’ has similarities with chess and was popular with the soldiers in teaching strategy on the battlefield. The complete set of original Viking pieces come with a custom-made playing board
One of the experts at DNW said the detectorist brought the Viking gaming pieces into the auction house in a plastic bag, unsure of their significance.
Bott had been collecting items for two decades at the site, and had also found coins, strap ends, brooches, mounts and lead weights dating to the 9th century.
‘He thought they were weights but I have been to Oslo Museum and seen examples of Viking games and these pieces resembled that,’ said Nigel Mills at DNW.
‘I weighed them all and none of them were the same – they were all different.’
After closer inspection of the lead weights and comparing them to similar shaped stone examples in the Oslo Museum, it became evident they were Hnefatafl pieces.
Mills told MailOnline the set ‘is like a time capsule’.
Each set comprises 37 pieces – 12 defending pieces of turreted form, 24 spherical attacking pieces and a king which has a copper decoration
‘What’s so weird is on this winter camp thousands of Viking warriors were sitting around playing a board game and it’s hard to visualise,’ he said.
‘They really did love this game as it was great for strategy and planning a few steps ahead as was required in battle.
‘To have a complete set of 37 is remarkable as they were not found at the same time, but instead by returning to the field over a long period of time.’
The pieces, which are made of lead, have been verified by experts at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
Although an accompanying board has not been found, DNW commissioned a board to be handmade out of timber, which is included in the item.
This means the winning buyer will be able to play Hnefatafl with the very same pieces that Vikings used 1,150 years ago.
Each piece moves in a straight line similar to the castle in chess and an opponent’s piece is removed from the board when enemy occupies two squares on either side
Hnefatafl players in Scandinavia would have used polished stones, as lead would deteriorate in the extreme cold.
‘In Scandinavia they don’t use lead – they didn’t have access and it doesn’t last – it deteriorates,’ Mills said.
‘They obviously had access to lead at Torksey and that’s what they used, so it was much easier to make them.’
The British Museum calls Hnefatafl, also known as The Viking Game or The King’s Table, ‘an exciting and strategic board game’.
The game, which peaked in popularity during the Dark Ages in Northern Europe, has developed over centuries and the different variants now come under the umbrella term ‘Tafl’.
This game was played between two players on a board with a distinctive pattern and has some similarities to chess.
Each Hnefatafl set comprises 37 pieces – 12 defending pieces of turreted form, 24 spherical attacking pieces and a king with a copper decoration.
Each piece moves in a straight line, just like the castle in chess, and an opponent’s piece is removed from the board when enemy pieces occupy two opposite squares.
The enemy needs to sandwich the piece on opposite sides, as opposed to chess where the piece has to land on the same square.
The purpose of the game is for the defender to move his or her king to one of the corner squares, while the attacker has to try and surround the king on all four sides preventing him from moving.
‘The game is very strategic – it’s very simplistic in some ways but when you’re attacking it’s very hard to win and capture that king,’ Mills told MailOnline.
‘It’s very hard to win by attacking.
‘So it’s a game that teaches the soldiers on the battlefield to think what’s happening behind you, each side of you and in front of you.’
This is the first time a complete set from the Viking era has been offered at auction, which will take place on Tuesday online at 1pm, with a starting price of about £800.
‘It may be they go for a lot more – I honestly don’t know,’ said Mills. ‘There’s no precedent for it so who knows.’
The pieces were taken from the site on the banks of the River Trent in Lincolnshire, where Vikings established a defensive and strategic base.
‘The site was strategic with a naturally oval shaped defended area of higher ground surrounded by marshes and bordered by the River Trent effectively creating an island,’ said Bott.
Depiction of the Vikings’ camp at Torksey by researchers at the University of York and University of Sheffield for Yorkshire Museum. Vikings used camp in winter to repair ships, melt down stolen loot, trade and play games
The camp was used by thousands of Viking warriors, women and children who lived there temporarily in tented accommodation, according to the University of Sheffield, which was involved with excavation at the site.
Vikings used the site as a base to repair ships, melt down stolen loot, manufacture, trade and play games like Hnefatafl.
‘The Vikings’ camp at Torksey was much more than just a handful of hardy warriors – this was a huge base, larger than most contemporary towns, complete with traders, families, feasting, and entertainment,’ said Professor Dawn Hadley at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology.
‘Vikings, including, women and children, were spending a lot of time playing games to pass the time, waiting for spring and the start of their next offensive.’
Research on the site was published in The Antiquaries Journal in 2016.
THE VIKING AGE LASTED FROM AROUND 700–1,110 AD
The Viking age in European history was from about 700 to 1,100 AD.
During this period many Vikings left their homelands in Scandinavia and travelled by longboat to other countries, like Britain and Ireland.
When the people of Britain first saw the Viking longboats they came down to the shore to welcome them.
However, the Vikings fought the local people, stealing from churches and burning buildings to the ground.
The people of Britain called the invaders ‘Danes’, but they came from Norway and Sweden as well as Denmark.
The name ‘Viking’ comes from a language called ‘Old Norse’ and means ‘a pirate raid’.
The first Viking raid recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was around 787 AD.
It was the start of a fierce struggle between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings.