A team of volunteers have discovered a rare game piece believed to date back to one of the first Viking raids on the Island of Lindisfarne some 1,200 years ago.
The tiny worked glass is adorned with a small crown of droplets at the top and decorated with swirls of blue and white glass all around.
Archaeologists believe the piece is from the Viking game board ‘hnefatafl’ or King’s Table, which is a strategic game similar to chess.
Although similar objects have been found in Ireland, Germany and Sweden, it’s only the second such piece to have ever been found in the UK.
Lindisfarne, or the Holy Island, is located off the northeast coast of England, which has a recorded history starting in the 6th century AD – and it was the location of the first major Viking raid in Britain.
The gaming piece was unearthed last summer in a trench, according to the project’s lead archaeologist, David Petts.
He also noted that even if the piece belonged to monks living on the island, it ‘shows the influence that Norse culture already had across the north Atlantic’, as reported by The Guardian.
‘We often tend to think of early medieval Christianity, especially on islands, as terribly austere: that they were all living a brutal, hard life,’ Petts told The Guardian.
‘The sheer quality of this piece suggests this isn’t any old gaming set. Someone on the island is living an elite lifestyle.’
The piece is also valuable because it, as Petts notes, is providing experts a glimpse into ‘actual lives of the people who were in the monastery, rather than just their cemeteries and their afterlives.’
The artifact was discovered through an excavation that is crowdfunded and staffed by volunteers and was found by a woman who was visiting the site to celebrate her birthday.
Another discover on the island in 2016 was also uncovered by volunteers – a small, round-headed sandstone marker, commonly known as a name stone, has been dated to the mid-7th to 8th century, the same time as the original monastery was built.
The face of the stone is carved and some letters are clearly visible.
Experts are still deciphering the text, but it appears the name of the monk commemorated on the stone ended with the letters ‘frith’, which is a common element of Anglo-Saxon names.
Co-director and project academic lead Dr David Petts, of Durham University, said: ‘This is a stunning find, of exactly the period we’re looking for.
‘This stone could have been carved during the time when the Lindisfarne Gospels were being written.
‘This is really, distinctively, diagnostically, proper Cuthbertian period Anglo-Saxon.
‘There’s only been a few found here and at a handful of other locations.
‘It’s unimpeachable evidence for Anglo-Saxon activity and confirms we’re hot on the trail of the very earliest monastery here in Lindisfarne.’
Brendon Wilkins, co-director and projects director for DigVentures, said: ‘We’ve got evidence from the mid-7th to 8th century from all three of our trenches across the island.
‘It’s amazing to see the early monastery basically rising through the ground, and to get the sense of where the most important structures would have been located.
‘We couldn’t have hoped for a better result.’
The project was crowdfunded with £25,000 raised from around the world, with some donors joining the dig.
The Lindisfarne Gospels are believed to have been written by in the late 7th and early 8th centuries by a monk named Eadfrith, who later became the Bishop of Lindisfarne.