The Dalverzin-Tepe pieces

Les pièces de Dalverzin-Tepe

Quoi de neuf ?

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Histoire des échecs




Isaac Linder reports (The Art of Chess Pieces, Moscow, 1994) that on autumn 1972, an expedition from Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences led by Galina Pugachenkova, found two small ivory figures of Indian origin, photographed here below :

click to enlarge

Elephant and Bull (or Knight or Vizier ?), ivory , dated as early as II c., found at Dalverzin-Tepe, Southern Uzbekistan.  Their use is unknown, some scholars think they can be game pieces.
Institute of Scientific Art, Tashkent

They were found in Dalverzin-Tepe, an ancient citadel of the Kushan empire, now in modern Uzbekistan . The Elephant is about 2.4 cm high and the Bull is about 1.8 cm. The puzzling fact is that they are dated from the 2nd century of our era, then about four hundred years before the earliest date advanced for Chess apparition.

Some historians believe that they can be toys or amulets which is quite possible. Also, it has been noticed that there is no Bull in the chessmen line-up. Nevertheless, I feel a vague resemblance between this "Bull" and the flat headed Vizier found in Afrasiab and in Saqqizabad, Iran.

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Vizier from Afrasiab (Uzbekistan, 7th c.),
Vizier (?) from Saqqizabad (Iran, 7th or 8th c.).

Are they Chess pieces ?

The mystery remains and would be useful to have another dating expertise on this unique pieces.

Additional remark :

Similar images are found in North India even earlier, since third century BC, associated with Buddhist symbols. Another example is a silver coin from the Graeco-India kingdom of Bactria which also shows an Elephant and a humped Bull. These Greeks kingdoms were replaced in these lands by the Kushan empire in the first century of our era.


Silver drachm of Apollodotus I (180-160 BC), an Indo-Greek king of Bactria.