The mysterious Afghan chessmen
Les mystérieuses pièces d'Afghanistan
How come these 5 pieces have surfaced in the USA in 2006 is a mystery (for me). A US dealer sold them saying they were sourced from North Afghanistan. For a while they were available from a specialized seller in UK, who was very kind in contacting me. Now, they have been bought by another collector and belong to a private collection.
Their exact origin is not known, nor is known their estimated date. Personally, I don't believe that they can be fakes. I do think there are genuine and, in this case, this finding is of a tremendous importance: it is a second chess set found after the Afrasiab chessmen, to which they look very similar. Then, it can be speculated a date around 6th to 8th century, in the Sassanian or early Arabic period. Also coming from an Eastern Persian land, they significantly increase the claim of these countries to be the cradle of Chess.
It seems that the five pieces are all made of the same material: stone - but which? They could all come from one set, perhaps 3 from one side (no "human" heads) and 2 from the opposing side (with "faces").
With these very unfortunate wars in Oriental countries, it seems that more and more archaeological treasures are circulating on the open market. The biggest regret is that no information is collected about the exact origin, the conditions in which they were found, all which could suggest a serious datation (and not just a speculation) and give hints about their cultural context. This is a pity.
However the good point is that pieces are now in the good hands of a well informed collector (and protector), they are far away from the very high risk of suffering the madness of men.
Thanks to Manfred Eder for fruitful discussions.
Thanks to Dermot Rochford for all photographs.
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