Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Some Pieces from Norway

Pieces from Storhaug
Pieces from Storhaug
Copyright Marit Synnøve Vea. Used with permission.

Wednesday, 17th July 2013

Recently I made enquiries about the glass pieces from Gunnarshaug, nowadays more commonly known as Storhaug, which are mentioned elsewhere on this site. I'm particularly interested in these because, until recently, I'd thought they were important in the dating of the game. More important than the Vimose board or the Golden Horns of Gallehus, but more on that another time.

In my research some years ago I found the pieces in a book containing a catalogue Viking artefacts, which dated them to A.D. 800. I can't remember now whether it was James Graham-Campbell's Viking Artefacts: a Select Catalogue, or Else Rosedahl's From Viking to Crusader, neither of which I have access to now. The book showed sixteen pieces: one large, four medium and eleven small-sized pieces. More recently I saw a picture of the same set with twelve small pieces, along with an extra set of amber pieces. So I decided to look into this further to see where the extra piece had come from, and to find out more about the other set..

I received a reply from Marit Synnøve Vea, leader of the Avaldsnes Project. The Avaldsnes Project has refined the dating of the pieces to A.D. 779 and, as I say, shown that there were twelve small pieces. Marit also sent me a translation of some passages in Arnfrid Opedal's book: "Kongemakt og kongerike. Gravritualer og Avaldsnes-områdets politiske rolle 600-1000", and a picture she had taken at Bergen Museum, where the pieces are kept.

The book tells little more about the glass pieces than I already knew from some time ago, except that there was one more piece to the set than I thought. But the information on the other set is more interesting. There were twenty amber pieces found, all seemingly identical, and Opedal says "the set ... is considered to be complete." What sort of game would these pieces play? There's no king piece. There's no clear split of colouring or size to help split the pieces into two or more teams. I need to learn more about how amber pieces were worked to get any further on that one.

Marit has kindly allowed me to make use of the picture on this web site. Lighting conditions were seemingly not ideal for photography, especially with the black surface on which the pieces are displayed. I'll edit the picture to split the two sets apart, and extract them from the background that makes them difficult to see. But in the mean time, here is the photograph as Marit sent it to me.


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