A few mysterious artifacts that appear to have been intentionally made into rounded or squared shapes have been recovered from Jamestown. While the original use of these artifacts remains unknown, one hypothesis is that they are gaming pieces. Two have unusual intentional or accidental impressions (see close-up images in the gallery below). While some were recovered from mixed contexts, three bone and 10 disc-shaped lead pieces were excavated from early Fort-period features, including Pit 1, the Powder Magazine, the Blacksmith Shop/Bakery, and the First Well, supporting the hypothesis that they were intentionally made and used for gaming.
Many games popular throughout history use disc-shaped pieces, especially a number of table games that developed in medieval Europe. Backgammon is one that modern game players might be familiar with. While backgammon is a possible option for these gaming pieces, the game itself developed from a popular 16th-century game called the Irish Game. The name does not necessarily associate the game with Ireland but may have been a way to differentiate this game from an even earlier iteration. Demonstrating its popularity, Irish Game boards and pieces of were recovered from shipwreck sites the English Mary Rose (1545) and the Swedish ship Vasa (1628). Even King James IV of Scotland, great-grandfather to King James I of England, was recorded as an adept Irish Game player.
The Irish Game was played between two players using a board with 12 points on each side, just like today’s backgammon board. Each player had a dice cup, two dice, and 15 pieces or men. Like backgammon, pieces were moved around the board according to dice rolls, with the goal to be the first player to clear the board. Backgammon, first recorded in the 1630s, introduced changes to the rules, which made the game faster and higher scoring, ultimately leading to its greater popularity. While no gaming boards have been recovered from Jamestown, likely because they were made from wood, these small disc-shaped pieces are a probable sign that the colonists entertained themselves both on the journey to Virginia and once they arrived.