Gaming Pieces

Project details

  • Object number – Various
  • Material – Bone
  • Place of Origin – Likely England
  • Date – c. 1607-1617
  • Context – James Fort cellar
  • Location – Archaearium
  • Category – Entertainment

These bone gaming pieces are almost certainly chess pieces. They have been found throughout the James Fort site in several rubbish pits. These particular pieces would have been manufactured by craftsmen in Europe. While it’s impossible to be sure what these two pieces were meant to represent, it does look like one may be a bishop. (While Europeans gave chess pieces their current names, the game itself originated somewhere in Asia centuries before making its way into European cultures. Numerous bone and ivory chess pieces have been found throughout Europe in archaeological contexts dating as old as a thousand years ago.)

To date nine chess pieces have been found by the Jamestown Rediscovery Project. One ivory chess piece was found looking little the worse for wear after having spent 400 years in an early well near James Fort’s north bulwark. (Artifacts pulled from below the depth at which the ground is completely saturated with water were wonderfully preserved in the wet conditions.) The presence of gaming pieces at James Fort could relate to colonist leisure activities, but there is also the possibility the decorative objects had been brought across the Atlantic as potential items for trade with the Virginia Indians.