Playing at Death: A Discussion of Hnefatafl Pieces in Viking Burials

Author(s): Rachel Cartwright

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "Small Things Unforgotten" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Board games, from a psychological standpoint, have been seen as a reflection of skill, cunning, wisdom, and intelligence. Since most board games were developed in order to hone one’s skills in a certain area of life, the presence of them in graves should indicate a level of intellectual prowess. However, from an archaeological viewpoint, the presence of board games in burials has been seen as a signifier of high social status. Often this has been assumed given the relative expense of the materials used in the creation of board games excavated in burials. During the Viking Age (AD 793 to 1066) Hnefatafl, a tactical game much like chess, was a popular board game, with evidence of the game appearing throughout Scandinavia and the British Isles. This paper will combine the psychological and archaeological in an attempt to better understand what Hnefatafl pieces found in Viking Age burials signify about the individuals with whom they are buried.

Cite this Record

Playing at Death: A Discussion of Hnefatafl Pieces in Viking Burials. Rachel Cartwright. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450921)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -26.016; min lat: 53.54 ; max long: 31.816; max lat: 80.817 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 22875