Sunday, January 8, 2017

The World's Oldest Chess Pieces "Afrosiab Set"

Photo of the famous pieces found at
Afrasiab (near modern-day Samarkand)

Although there is scholarly disagreement about where chess originated - Central Asia, India, the Persian empire, and China are all contenders - it is certain that the game spread along the Great Silk Road. Indeed, the earliest, recognisable chess pieces, dated to about 760 AD were excavated at Afrosiabs north of present-day Samarkand in 1977 by a team led by Archaeologist Prof. Yuri Buryakov's from the Uzbek SSR Academy of Archaeology. (NB:
A coin, dated 761 was found with the chess pieces)

This find a sensational at the time included seven chess pieces. They were heavily worn, but clearly identifiable as two foot soldiers with shields and short swords (= our pawns); a war elephant with chain armour and a rider in full battle-dress (= our bishop); a visier (= our queen) with two horses with two mounted riders with sword and shield (= knights); and the Shah, on a three-horse chariot, holding a mace his symbol of power (= our king). The rukh (rook) also features a three-horse chariot with two men, one driving, and the other armed with sword and shield.
The set has five out of the six types of pieces, and are completely convincing as a chess set, being made at the end of the Sassanid Empire just before the Arabic conquest they are representational unlike later Arabic sets which used abstract shapes, in accordance with Islamic religious teaching.
Some other older statuettes which were also found in Uzbekistan are occasionally named as the worlds oldest chess pieces. They are figurines of an elephant and a zebu bull excavated in 1972 at Dalverzin-Tepe an ancient citadel of the Kushan empire located in Southern Uzbekistan, and stem from the 2nd century. The Elephant is about 2.4 cm high and the Bull is about 1.8 cm high. Some historians believe that they could also be toys or amulets which is quite possible. Also, it has been noticed that there is no Bull in the chess. Most chess historians feel as such that they are probably not Chess pieces, but probably belonged to a forerunner of Chess. They are kept in Tashkent.

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