Oldest in World: 1,300-Year-Old Chess Piece Found in Jordan

Published December 3rd, 2019 - 12:15 GMT
1,300-Year-Old Chess Piece (Twitter)
1,300-Year-Old Chess Piece (Twitter)
Highlights
"This shape is standard for early Islamic pieces right through the 13th-14th Century," said John P. Oleson, professor of archaeology at the University of Victoria in Canada.

A 1,300-year-old chess piece carved out of white sandstone found in Jordan could be the oldest in the world, according to archeologists.

The figurine was excavated in a desert region of southern Jordan in 1991, among the ruins of the historical Islamic trading post of Humayma.

"This shape is standard for early Islamic pieces right through the 13th-14th Century," said John P. Oleson, professor of archaeology at the University of Victoria in Canada.

Oleson headed the archaeological mission in the 1990s which unearthed the ancient chess piece, and presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research in San Diego, California.

At first Oleson and his team thought the small, two-horned object was an altar from the Nabatean civilisation.

Now the archaeologist says his research point to the carving being a "rook" or "castle" chess piece.

As the relic is made out of local Sandstone, Oleson believes its owner must not have been from a high social class, making chess a more egalitarian sport than once believed.

"In the literature, naturally they talk about the elites playing with chess pieces made of ivory, ebony, gold or rock crystal," Oleson said.

"The world of low-class players doesn't appear in that kind of literature so it's good to have an archaeological record."

The historic Humayma trading post is found between modern day Petra, which was the capital of the Nabatean kingdom, and the Red Sea port city of Aqaba.

"Since the game probably was carried westward from India by the movement of merchants and diplomats, it is no surprise that early evidence for it should be found at a site on the busy Via Nova Traiana," writes Oleson in his reacher paper’s abstract about the trade route which was key to Nabatean society.

Chess became a game to unite those from different religions and classes amongst the population living in Humayma, and proved "very popular in the early Islamic world", Oleson said to Science News.

Despite these findings, there are other objects which may contest the title for the world's oldest chess piece.

Figurines found in 1977 in Uzbekistan are dated to 700AD and others were dug-up by archeologists in Albania in 2002 that were deemed to be sixth-century ivory piece from a Byzantine palace.

These resemble modern chess pieces, with crosses carved on the top of the figurines but critics contest that they date a time before the recorded existence of chess.

This article has been adapted from its original source.


Copyright @ 2019 The New Arab.

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