This May Be the Worlds Oldest Chess Piece Ever Found

It dates back around 1,300 years and is reminiscent of a rook (castle).

The game of Chess, as we know it now, emerged in Europe during the fifteenth century. However, if we were to dig deeper into history, we would find out that the “original” game originated in India 1,500 years ago in the Gupta Empire, where its early form in the 6th century was known as chaturaṅga.

Chaturanga was adopted as chatrang in Sassanid Persia, which in turn was the form of chess brought to late-medieval Europe.

In Islamic texts, there are references to that game from the seventh century.

During that time, the game of chess is thought to have been extremely popular.

Now, researchers argue they have discovered “the oldest known archeologically documented chess piece”, which they say dates back around 1,300 years.

The piece recovered by archaeologists was made out of sandstone and is reminiscent of a rook (castle). It was revealed during archaeological excavations that took place in Humayma, Jordan in 1991.

John Oleson of the University of Victoria recently reported in a presentation at the American Schools of Oriental Research details about the chess piece. Although rectangular in shape, the sandstone object looks apparently much like other early Islamic Chess pieces.

Knights Templar playing chess, Libro de los juegos, 1283. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Knights Templar playing chess, Libro de los juegos, 1283. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

At the presentation, Olsen pointed out that other objects identified as rooks in Jordan and the Near East, either wood, stone or ivory, are almost identical to the sandstone object recovered in 1991

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In the modern version of chess games, the piece resembles a medieval tower—the piece has the ability to move either horizontally or vertically through any number of unoccupied squares.

In ancient times, the rook was fashioned to look like a dual-horse chariot, which may account for the two-pronged look of early Islamic figures.

The piece of sandstone was discovered at Humayma, a site that is located along the Via Nova Traiana—a busy trade route linking Asia and the Near and Middle East.

Experts argue that the game of Chess probably arrived in the Middle and Near East precisely in that trading route.

Olson also notes that Humayama was a trading center run by the Abbassid Family, who kept up with trends of the time in both Iraq and Syria.

When all the evidence is taken into consideration, Olson argues that the Rook is most likely the earliest evidence of such a chess piece ever discovered, as well as the oldest example of any known chess piece in history.