“The design of the piece has an abstract shape, and is designed according to Islamic tradition, where no human figures are to be depicted,” Lars Haugesten, project manager for the excavation, said in a statement. Rather, it is decorated with tiny circles and a protruding 'snout' on the top with two dotted circles. The piece is made from an antler, and a chunk of lead was likely placed in the middle of the piece to help it stand up firmly on a chessboard, according to NIKU.
NORWEGIAN INSTITUTE OF CULTURAL HERITAGE RESEARCH
The ancient form of chess, called shatranj, helped archaeologists determine that the piece appears to be a horse, which would be a knight in today's game. Chess likely spread to the Nordic region by the last half of the 12th century, according to Haugesten. The game was played in the Arab world after the conquest of Persia in the 7th century and spread to Spain in the 10th century by the Moors. From Spain, it spread northwards to Scandinavia. The oldest find from the Nordic region was Lund, Sweden—a chess piece similar to the latest artifact from Tønsberg.
... Knight pieces are few and far between when it comes to medieval finds. Over 1,000 game pieces in general have been found in Bergen, another city in Norway, alone, but only six abstract knights such as this one have been excavated, according to Haugesten. "In Norway, some chess pieces from the Middle Ages have been found, but few similar knights," Haugesten said.