Archaeological findings

Les excavations archéologiques

Quoi de neuf ?

Mes livres

Histoire des échecs



Two nice collections :

Several controvertial pieces:

Some famous sets :

Other pages :

If texts constitute the main sources for Chess history, archaeological findings made available through the world are from the first importance.

Unfortunately, they are in a rather limited number mainly for two reasons:

1) the materials used for Chess and other games can not be always conserved. Boards may have been drawn or dug on the ground or on perishable supports. Wood is also short-lived, especially in humid countries. Only in very specific conditions, wooden game pieces that can be identified have a chance to be discovered. As far as metals are concerned, pieces in token shape, as for Xiangqi, could have been mistaken for coins. That is the main reason to explain why only almost complete sets have been found for old Xiangqi: incomplete ones could have been taken to mere coins.

2) the important countries or regions for seminal Chess are, alas, victims of modern wars or major instabilities : Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kashmir are very difficult areas for archaeological missions. Another region which could be of importance to understand the diffusion in Asia is Indochina. It can be imagined how it should be difficult to dig in Cambodia or Vietnam nowadays.



Estimated Date

Place of discovery




2nd century AD

Dalverzin-Tepe, Southern Uzbekistan


Chamra Institute of scientific art, Tashkent

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Two small ivory figures of Indian origin (?) : an Elephant and a Zebu-like Bull


from 2nd to 5th century

Northern India, Kanauj, Ahicchatra, Pâtaliputra


Kept in museums in India

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Several terracotta figures, in form of warriors, elephants, horses and chariots. Their use as chessmen has not been proved yet.


Before 628 ? (by comparison with sculpture from Sassanian period)

Persian origin, purchased in Bagdad, Irak

Chatrang (tbc)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Elephant in carved stone (dolomite). Its chess piece nature is contested by some historians


Early 6th century

Afghanistan or Northern India


Private collection, Germany

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Brownish terracotta Knight. Its design bears several similarities with some Afrasiab pieces


Around 761 (because a coin so dated belongs to the same layer)

Afrasiab, near Samarkand, Uzbekistan / Tajikistan


Uzbekistan State Museum, Samarkand

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7 ivory men : King, Vizir, Elephant, 2 Knights, Chariot and Pawn. Several isolated pieces have been unearthed which are alike.


6th-8th century?

North Afghanistan


Private collection

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5 stone men : 1 King or Vizir, 2 Elephants, 1 Knight, 1 Chariot.


8th-10th century

Belaia Vezha, on the Don river, South of Russia


Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

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An ivory Elephant


9th-10th century

Nishapur, Iran


Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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King, Vizir, Knight, Elephant, Rook having an Arabic abstract pattern. One side stained dark green. Elephants have two small tusks on the top.


End of 9th or beginning of 10th

 San Genadio, Leon, Spain


Monastery of Santiago de Peñalba
(Leon/ Spain)

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Mozarab chess pieces. Ivory. First Chess piece known in Europe


Late 10th century

Venafro, Campania, Italy


Museo archeologico di Napoli (Italy)

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Chess set, bone with ivory topping



Paladru Lake
Charavines, Isère, France


Colletière, Isère, France

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Queen, Bishop and Rook in hazeltree wood or bone



Gironde, France


Pineuilh, St Foy la Grande, France

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A Rook (deer bone) and a kneeled piece



In the Kôfukuji at Nara


Nara, Japan (?)

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16 pieces, same shape as modern pieces in Hinoki wood (Japanese cypress). Drunk Elephant is thought to be within those pieces.



 Ager, Catalonia, Spain


Museum de Lleida (Lerida) Dociesa i Comarcal (Spain)

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Mozarab chess set, rock-crystal


1080-1090, probably made in Salerne, south of Italy

From the St Denis Treasure, origin unknown. Often wrongly named "The Charlemagne set".


Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

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Carved pieces in elephant ivory: 2 Kings, 2 Queens, 4 Elephants, 4 Knights, 3 Chariots (Rooks), 1 Foot Soldier.


Beginning of 12th century

 Scandinavian or German origin
Found at Ilot des Deux-Bornes, around Noyon, Oise, France 


Musée du Noyonnais, Noyon, France

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Chess set, deer bone


1102-1106 (Chongning era) during Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126)

1)Near Anxi in Jiangxi province
2) Kaifeng, Beijing


Beijing (?)

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1)32 copper pieces: 2 Generals, 4 Ministers (differentiated through slightly different characters), 4 Chariots, 4 Horses, 4 Elephants, 4 Cannons, 10 Soldiers. Disks red and black. Characters in one side and pictures on the other.
2)Set of copper pieces. Each piece has a picture carved on the back. The general carries a sword, sitting in a tent. Guards are females, wearing armors. The ministers are elephants. Rooks are wagons for transporting rocks for the rock-slingers. Knights are horses. Cannons are rock-slinging machines. Pawns hold spears. Characters in one side and pictures on the other. Ministers not differentiated.


About 1150 and probably from Trondheim or other Scandinavian town

Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland


British Museum, London & National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh

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93 carved pieces: 8 Kings, 8 Queens, 16 Bishops, 15 Knights, 12 Warders (Rooks), 19 Pawns, 14 plain disks, 1 belt buckle. Some are stained red. Made in walrus tusk but few in whale tooth.


Before 1200

Angkor Vat

Ouk Chatrang

Angkor, Cambodia

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Sculptures on reliefs


13th - 14th century


Chu Shogi or Dai Shogi



Set of pieces


Rukh (Chariot) in ivory from Afrasiab, about 7th/8th century, Uzbekistan State Museum, Samarkand
(from "Roi des jeux, jeu des rois, les échecs", Jean-Michel Péchiné, Gallimard)


The images and photographs shown on these pages are coming from the following sources :

The authors of theses works, books and photographs, are kindly acknowledged. (Un grand merci aussi à Thierry Depaulis. Thanks to Peter Banaschak as well).
If there is any problem with their presence here, please do
mail me.