Medieval Board Game Found In A Secret Chamber Under A 13th-Century Russian Castle

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Rosie McCall 18 Sep 2018, 10:19

Archaeologists have found what appears to be a Medieval board game inside the secret chamber of a 13th-century fortress close to the Russian-Finnish border. According to a social media post from Vladimir Tsoi, director of the Vyborg Museum-Reserve, it might just be the "most intriguing" discovery since archaeologists began excavations in and around the castle earlier this year. 

The fortress is Vyborg Castle, located on a teeny tiny island overlooking the town of Vyborg in Leningrad Oblast in northwestern Russia. It was built by the Swedes in 1293 CE but its roots may be older still – possibly to an earlier Karelian garrison, Newsweek reports.

In the intervening years, it has passed hands several times between Russia and Finland, most recently in 1944 when it was taken back by the Soviet Union.

The object itself is basic – a clay tablet with markings of intersecting squares – but experts believe it is an old edition of a two-player strategy game called Nine Men's Morris, which has existed in some incarnation or another for centuries. Copies have been found everywhere from the UK to China to the Roman Empire and today you may know it as Cowboy's Checkers.

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The aim of the game is to capture your opponent's pieces or "men". To do this, you must build "mills" or rows of three men and for every mill you build, you earn one "man". The winner is declared when their opponent is unable to build any more mills – ie they are left with only two men.

In the standard game, each player starts with nine men but depending on the version, it could be a few as three or as high as 12.

Intriguingly, the game was found inside an underground chamber that may offer a secret passageway to the town of Vyborg, at least if historical documents are to be believed. According to Vyborg Museum-Reserve, castle records dating back to the mid-16th century mention a so-called "secret house" that leads to the shore of the strait. But for now, the evidence that it makes it as far as the shore remains inconclusive. 

The board game is not the first treasure found within the castle walls. This summer, archaeologists unearthed a collection of copper coins dating back to the early 19th century, Gizmodo reports. 

[H/T: Vyborg Museum-Reserve,  NewsweekGizmodo]

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