Viking burials included board games. According to archaeologists, in addition to their weapons, men’s boats were set adrift with game pieces to keep them occupied in the afterlife.
What’s the deal with Viking funerals?
You’ve probably seen an approximation of a Viking burial on TV. But there’s one step involved in fictional accounts rarely performed during real Viking funerals – the flaming arrow. Usually, after the corpse is laid on a boat and set out to see, someone shoots a flaming arrow from the shore and sets the boat alight. That likely only happened to the highest-ranking members of a clan.
If bodies were burned, it was on a funeral pyre, not a boat. And sometimes the boats were buried rather than set out to sea.
It turns out Viking funerals were more complex than we’ve been led to believe by television shows. Go figure.
The role of game pieces in Viking burials
Archaeologists studying Viking burial boats have discovered some other interesting things about these funerals (which all appear to have been for men). In a study published in the European Journal of Archaeology authors say game pieces were included on burial boats to show the importance of gameplay “at home, on board ship, and in the hall of the gods.”
Mental Floss (cited below) took a closer look at the research by Mark A. Hall, who is a curator at the Perth Museum & Art Gallery in the UK. They note that “In his new paper, Hall considers the Vikings’ motivations for including board games in 36 burial boats recovered from 14 different countries. The oldest of the boats could date back to the year 150 CE; the youngest set to sea around the year 1000.”
Most of what archaeologists had previously found on Viking burial boats included weapons. But items resembling chess pieces have been found with men. They were typically made of materials like ivory, bone, glass, whalebone, and amber.
While we normally think of Vikings as conquers, a person simply can’t conquer all day. There has to be some downtime. It makes sense that they would have come up with games to keep themselves occupied (and competitive).
Think about how common it was for Egyptians to bury grave goods to see a person on to the afterlife. The Vikings also included items for use after death (and to honor those who had departed). Some objects were symbolic, and others were practical. Mental Floss quipped that “the Vikings may have thought they could prevent their loved ones from haunting them by simply keeping them busy.” — WTF fun facts
Source: “Viking Burials Included Board Games” — Mental Floss