Thursday, August 11, 2011

Update on Salme Boat Burial Excavation, with Tafl Game and Dice

Salme Yields Evidence of Oldest Sailing Ship in Baltic Sea
Sigrid Maasen
Published: 10.08.2011 10:04

The ancient ship burial site in Salme on the island of Saaremaa still has some surprises in store.

Image from Rescue excavations of a Vendel era boat-grave in Salme, Saaremaa (linked below)
The archeological excavations in Salme, soon to be completed, have yielded evidence that the ship that had been buried with 35 warriors and nobles had a keel, which in turn leads to the conclusion that it used sails. This represents the earliest known use of sails on a vessel in the Baltic Sea region, reported ETV.

"One piece of new information that we have been anticipating since winter was still to be found - namely, confirmation of whether it was a sailing ship or not. Now we have evidence that it used sails," said archeologist Jüri Peets of Tallinn University.

Peets called this discovery the cherry on top of the cake that was the nearly two-year-long archeological dig. "It is thought that sails were first introduced in the North Sea and Baltic Sea region at about 700 A.D., which is the conventional date. Our ship dates from the year 750. The ship from the year 700 was from the North Sea region, near Norway. However, here in the Baltic Sea region, this is without a doubt the oldest sailing ship that has been found," said Peets.

In addition to the discovery of the keel, the irregular rows of strong rivets found on the bottom of the vessel also prove that the ship used sails.

Maritime archaeologist Vello Mäss confirmed that the Salme ship was without a doubt a warship that used sails. Although sails had been long in use in the Mediterranean Sea region, it was the Norwegians who first started using them in the North Sea region. Mäss also suggested that perhaps two separate war parties on two different ships had met in Salme centuries ago. Such hypotheses concerning the Salme ship burial site are sure to keep the scientists busy for years to come.

For further information about this ship burial (at least 35 individuals were buried with the ship) see Rescue excavations of a Vendel era boat-grave in Salme, Saaremaa
by Marge Konsa | Papers by Marge [Konsa]
Published in "Archeological Fieldwork in Estonia 2008"

I do not recall seeing such a game piece with a human figure carved on it before - very interesting, and a convenient way to depict the "king" piece; it rather reminded me of how Chinese game pieces are marked.  Here is the description of the find from the article; I could not get the article to download in PDF (so I could cut and paste text) so I just snipped out pertinent portions - those are the blocks outlined in red:

Next is described a limestone slab that was found in conjunction with one of the gaming pieces and a die, which led me to believe it could possibly be a gameboard - such as the type that would have been used for a 'tafl' game.  However, it wasn't described with any marks inscribed upon it - I suppose then that is why the archaeologists did not describe it as a gameboard.

I would like to see all of the recovered gaming pieces arranged on a board one day, to get an idea of what they would have looked like in actual use.

I still wonder about that limestone slab. Forty centimeters is about 15.74 inches. That would make a fair size game board. What about the use of the word "diameter" in describing the slab? Isn't diameter only used in describing a circle? So, was the limestone slab actually circular??? That would seem to take it out of the realm of a possible game board for a tafl-type game - at least, based upon the few extant examples of surviving game boards with which I'm familiar that are all square or rectangular shaped, but then, who really knows? There is so much we don't know!  Circular game boards are not unknown in antiquity.  In the far past are surviving carved stone boards from ancient Egypt for the game of Mehen; and in Byzantine times a form of chess was played on a circular board. 

If anyone out there comes across this post and has further information or suggestions, please feel free to comment!


Marge Konsa said...

I upload some pictures of the limestone.

The measurements of the slab are
40x35 cm and is not round (sorry about the diameter, it should be diagonal). The upper side of the stone is flat indeed, but has no engraving.


Jan said...

Thank you for the post, Marge. I enjoyed reading your paper. I was not able to get the picasa link to work - the "https" indicates that the link is secure and I don't believe I will be able to access it. Is there another site where I might find some photos of more of the recovered objects, including more game pieces?

Marge Konsa said...

I forgot to make the picasaweb album open for a public. Try it now again.

For a game pieces see:

There are more pictures about finds on the page

Unfortunately it is mostly in Estonian

Jan said...

Thanks so much for the new links! I find the photos of the game pieces fascinating.

Could the markings on some of the pieces have been for the purpose of allowing the players to tell the difference between each player's pieces? In the absence of some color on the pieces, how else would they have been able to tell them apart?

I also found it very interesting the comment about some of the pieces possibly being used in a form of divination. Similar to runes, maybe?

I will be posting some of the photos of the pieces here later today.

Thank you again for your assistance!

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