Ancient board game piece unearthed at Lyminge dig

Anglo-saxon playing piece The piece is made from a hollow cylinder of bone and has a central bronze rivet

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A 7th Century board game piece, the first discovery of its kind for 130 years, has been unearthed in Kent by University of Reading archaeologists.

Researchers believe the hollow bone cylinder found at the Lyminge dig belongs to an early backgammon or draughts-type games set.

It was found in the remains of an Anglo-Saxon royal hall where board games were traditionally very popular.

Project leader Dr Gabor Thomas called it a "wonderfully evocative discovery".

He added: "Our excavation is providing an unprecedented picture of life in an Anglo-Saxon royal complex.

"Gaming, along with feasting, drinking, and music, formed one of the key entertainments of the Anglo-Saxon mead-hall as evoked in the poem Beowulf.

"The discovery of Anglo-Saxon gaming-pieces and gaming-boards has previously been restricted to male burials, particularly those of the Anglo-Saxon elite."

'Forging kingdoms'
Lyminge site The discovery took place at the archaeological excavation of a feasting hall in Lyminge

The last time a similar artefact was found was during the excavation of a barrow burial in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, in the 1880s.

The Lyminge piece, which is the first to be found in a "gaming setting", includes a central bronze rivet.

Common board games of the time were latrunculi and tabula, the aim of which was to capture the opponent's pieces.

Both came to England in the 5th Century during Anglo-Saxon migrations.

Also found nearby were items of jewellery, luxury glass, and pits with animal bones, suggesting that feasting and other ceremonial events took place at the site.

The building's foundations were first discovered in 2012.

Dr Thomas said: "By combining these fascinating structural remains with a stunning array of artefacts, our excavations are providing new insights into the role played by Anglo-Saxon royal complexes in forging kingdoms and royal dynasties during this key period in English history."

The dig will continue until summer 2014.

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