This #MuseumMonday Curator Andy Ward shares gaming pieces made from horse teeth from the Ozengell Anglo-Saxon collection.
Posted 14th August 2023
In these posts I hope to showcase some of the objects we have on display at our partner Maidstone Museums as well as objects within our collections that have parallels at other museums.
For the first in this installment I've chosen my favourite object from the #Ozengell Anglo-Saxon collection; nine gaming pieces made from horse teeth.
While not on display at Maidstone, these gaming pieces do have parallels at The British Museum, in the form of a number of gaming pieces excavated at The King's Field, Faversham in the 19th century - britishmuseum.org/collection/object/H_-1284-70_1
The pastime of playing board games was likely introduced to Britain through Roman contact, with games being brought in by soldiers stationed on the frontiers.
Many of the games we know from the Anglo-Saxon period fall under the Germanic word Tafl which likely derived from the Latin tabula.
These words refer exclusively to games played on a board or table such as the Viking period game hnefatafl. This game involved one player defending his king, attempting to move him to the edge of the board while his opponent seeks to stop him.
Tafl or Taefl appears to have been the sole board game played in England before the late Saxon period. While gaming pieces from the 7th century such as these and others found at the famous cemetery at Sarre better reflect hnefatafl, it would seem that early Anglo-Saxon gaming pieces reflect taefl a lot better.
It has also been argued that board games may have been used as a divination tool as well as a pastime for the higher levels of society.
Riddler, I. D., Esther Cameron, and Sonja Marzinzik. "Early Anglo-Saxon personal equipment and structural ironwork from Saltwood Tunnel, Kent." CTRL specialist report series (2006).
SOLBERG, BERGLJOT. "Pastimes or serious business?." ON THE ROAD: 265.