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The Ballinderry gaming board

The Ballinderry gaming board, NMI, 1932:6533

This gaming board, made from yew wood, is laid out in a grid of peg holes with the centre and corner holes marked off with circular arcs. It would have been used for the Viking war game Hnefatafl, the object of which is to drive the King piece into one of the corners.

The board was discovered during the 1932 excavations at Ballinderry crannog, a rural site occupied from the late 9th to 11th centuries. This site appears to be the homestead of noble of some standing, possibly even a king, judging by the quality and number of finds.

The board is roughly square, has forty-nine holes and is ornamented around the edges with projecting heads (probably handles) and eight panels of carved interlace decoration. Two panels have plain five- and six-strand interlace and two at opposite corners have ring-chain interlace in the Scandinavian Borre style.

This art style used to be associated particularly with the Isle of Man and it was once thought that the gaming board must have originated there.  More recently this style has also been shown to occur on Irish metalwork and it is probably more likely that the board was made in Ireland – most likely in Dublin.

Similar, though simpler boards were found during the Dublin excavations. They tend to be of a draught-board form with some cancelled squares and were used with a variety of flat-based, domed, conical or discoidal gaming pieces, made of bone, antler, jet/lignite, stone and wood, which were also found during the excavations.

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