The Reason Viking Burials Featured Board Games

Some of the most-played games included Nine Men’s Morris (known as “hnefatafl” or “nitavl” to Vikings — see a version of the game above), a war game, similar to chess, that pitted the king against an army bent on removing his protection and used dice to determine moves (from the Museum of Denmark). Diversions like this were included with the Viking’s body so the warrior could enjoy himself in the afterlife, according to Realm of History. For example, in an archeological site on the Orkney Islands, in Scotland’s Northern Isles, two such games were discovered in burial sites. They are part of the 36 board games found amid Viking graveyards throughout Northern Europe. 

The ones in Orkney included a male who was interred with 25 game pieces carved from bone and another site for an adult male, an elderly woman, and a boy — buried with 22 pieces formed from whalebone. The website quoted Mark Hall of the Perth Museum, who explained, “Thus equipping the deceased in burial would have seen them provided for in afterlife both as an act of remembrance and to make sure the dead were not lacking in anything, ensuring that they would move on and not — disturbingly — be drawn back to the living world.”

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