09/07/2018
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'Very rare find' as medieval gaming board discovered by archaeologists in Aberdeenshire

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Archaeologists working to locate the site of a 'lost' medieval monastery connected to the Book of Deer have discovered a stone gaming board which was used to play the Norse strategy game Hnefatafl.

The Scotsman reported that a team of archaeologists working on the Book of Deer Project, led by Dr Ali Cameron of Cameron Archaeology, discovered the rare object, which Dr Cameron explains, is of great significance: 'It is a very rare object and only a few have been found in Scotland, mainly on monastic or at least religious sites. These gaming boards are not something everyone would have had access to.'

Dr Cameron told History Scotland that the recent excavations at Old Deer in Buchan, Aberdeenshire, have uncovered 'a medieval stone structure, post-hole structure underneath and two stake-hole structures. One is along the edge of the river and may be a wattle fence or something like a fish trap. More research [is] needed.

'There is also a path along the river at the other end of the site and this has been made of large stones set into the muddy edge of the river. This is medieval water management and reclaiming land. The earlier structures might be [an] abbey or monastery and we have sent a sample of charcoal to SUERC for radiocarbon dating.'

The game of Hnefatafl

The strategy game to which the stone gaming board relates is a similar game to chess and is sometimes known as 'king's table'. A central stone piece, known as the king, stands at the centre of the board surrounded by protectors, with the opponent aiming to outwit the protectors and capture the king.

The board has not yet been dated, and Dr Cameron believes that the Solomon's Knot (pictured) carved onto the board may have been added at a later date.

Volunteers are now trying to find out whether the newly-discovered post holes are related to the monastic site, and more work will be carried out to try to answer this question. Charcoal samples have been sent for testing, with results expected in around three months.

The Book of Deer Project

The Book of Deer Project is a community-led initiative which aims to explore historic connections between the tenth-century Book of Deer and the area around Old Deer in Buchan, Aberdeenshire. The manuscript is a book of Gospels which contains the earliest continuous written examples of Scottish Gaelic, as well as beautiful illustrations.

The monastery at Deer was a sixth-century foundation foundation associated with Columba and his disciple Drostan. In the twelfth century the monks of Deer used the blank spaces and the margins in the book to record details of grants of land to the monastery and its foundation legend. These “notitiae” are the earliest continuous examples of written Scots Gaelic.

(images copyright Michael Sharpe/Book of Deer Project)

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