Board Game at Sutton Hoo

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Reconstructed ship burial at National Trust Sutton Hoo © David Gill

The reconstructed ship burial in the exhibition centre at National Trust Sutton Hoo includes the board game that was placed alongside the body. The original pieces are now in the British Museum.

Eddie Duggan writes:

It looks like hnefatafl – but all the bits are the same colour! 
The pieces are on the lines rather than in the spaces (alea evangelii may have been played on the lines, but alea evangelii was also probably intended as a symbolic use of the board [cf Wink Martindale’s “Deck of Cards”] rather than as a playable board game that was played for fun).  
If it is hnefatafl, pieces would play on the squares and there would be 24 attacking pieces and 12 defenders (together with defending a king); the defending pieces’ starting position is in a  symmetrical arrangement around the king while the attacking forces are grouped in sixes on each of the four sides. The aim is to get the king to safety, although which squares constitute safety is a matter of debate due to Linnaeus (the botanist) failing to make accurate notes during his tour of Lappland (Lachesis lapponica).
 

Stanway: ‘The Doctor’s Grave’

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Reconstruction of the ‘Doctor’s Grave’ at Stanway, and displayed in the Colchester Museum © David Gill

There is a reconstruction of the so-called ‘Doctor’s Grave’ in the Colchester Museum. The grave itself was excavated at Stanway. One of the features is the presence of a gaming-board with counters laid out as if the game had been interrupted by the funeral. The cremated remains of the individual were found adjacent to the board. Note the presence of the Roman amphora.

Board Games and Wine Consumption

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Welwyn Garden City Iron Age Burial displayed in the British Museum © David Gill

I have been working on the spread of board games alongside the consumption of wine. Board games appear in the iconography of Athenian sympotic pottery from at least the sixth century BC. Physical board games appear in burials in the Po Valley from the late 6th century BC onwards, often placed alongside Attic sympotic pottery.

The appearance of a board games, with glass counters, in the Welwyn Garden City Iron Age burial (and now displayed in the British Museum) may be an extension of this earlier phenomenon. The burial itself dates to the late 1st century BC. Scholars have mapped the spread of wine consumption across western Europe through the distribution of wine amphorae. But are board games part of this cultural impact?

I am working on this project with my colleague Eddie Duggan who has published in this area (“Strange Games: Some Iron Age examples of a four-player board game?“, see academia.edu).

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Pieces from board games placed in the Welwyn Garden City Iron Age burial © David Gill