I was reading an article on the first genetic proof of female viking warriors, which mentions the inclusion of a game in the tomb:

Furthermore, a full set of gaming pieces indicates knowledge of tactics and strategy, stressing the buried individual's role as a high-ranking officer.

SOURCE: A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics | American Journal of Physical Anthropology

The image in the paper is too small for me to make out much detail. A good assumption would be it is a hnefatafl game, but wondering if anyone has more info or a confirmation.

See also: Tafl games

2 Answers 2


The game is most likely Hnefatafl, the ancestor of a family of derivative modern games referred to as tafl games. Hnefatafl was the most popular board game in early-Medieval Europe, having accompanied the Vikings (who invented it) around Europe during their conquests and raids, until displaced by chess later in the era.

I was able to find Whittaker, H. (2006). Game-boards and gaming-pieces in funerary contexts in the Northern European iron age. online, one of the citations in the original article. It discusses (in English) the context, analysis, and conclusions derived from the frequent association of board game pieces and equipment with high status, usually male, individuals from iron age Nordic burial sites.

The game-boards and gaming-pieces found in northern European graves of this period are usually considered to have been used for playing Hnefatafl, a game which is well known from textual evidence. Hnefatafl was clearly a game of war, and it would seem not unlikely that playing the game was regarded as useful to the development of warrior abilities.

The older citation from van Hamel (1934) appears to not be available in English.

Although no description of the board or of the pieces has yet been obtained in answer to this question note the following:

  • Numerous tafl variants, on various board sizes and with different numbers of men for both sides, have been described in the Nordic Sagas and discovered in Viking graves.

  • The tafl variant most commonly mentioned in saga literature, and most commonly found in Scandinavian graves, seems to have been Hnefatafl itself; as noted above by Whittaker.

Hnefatafl is an asymmetric game, with a designated attacker and defender of unequal strength. One of the defender's pieces is a King, and the object of the game is, respectively, to capture the King (attacker) or rescue the King (defender). Typically the Attacker would have about twice as many pieces as the Defender, not counting the King.

The old 1960's era game Goldfinger, by Milton Bradley, is similar and would impart some of the flavour for this style of game, for those old enough to remember. Certainly my brother and I spent many enjoyable hours playing this game in our pre-teens.

Goldfinger is hiding in Fort Knox (the center of a 9X9 grid) guarded by 8 henchmen (blue). 16 agents (red), under the guidance of Mr. Bond, have been sent to apprehend him.

Movement of pieces is easy... move any one of your men any distance along a straight line. If you can trap an opponent's piece between two of yours, it is captured and removed from the board. Goldfinger requires all four adjacent points occupied before he is captured.

The object for the red player is to capture Goldfinger; for blue to win, Goldfinger must escape.


None of the information that you have provided gives any information about the pieces or the board other then a suggestion at a possible use. Because of that it is hard to get into much specifics about the possible game other then that it appears to be military related.

Here is what is said about it The Washington Post article that you linked.

The shieldmaiden, whose teeth identify her as being at least 30, also appeared to be of high status. Her grave chamber is on a prominent, elevated piece of ground between the town and a hilltop fort, and it also contained a full set of gaming pieces and a gaming board, typically used by military leaders to work out battle tactics and strategy.

Those items might have nothing to do at all with gaming and instead be used for basic simulation and battle prep. Armies have been using basic maps for a long time to get a better idea of geographic issues when preparing for a battle.

Simulation and Gaming

Simulation and gaming as tools of warfare has a long history. At least as far back as the Roman Empire, commanders used sand tables with abstract icons to represent soldiers and units in battle. These allowed leaders to visualize and manipulate a small physical copy of the battlefield. It allowed them to see information in geographic perspective and enabled multiple players to pit their own ideas against one another. Though the visual representation provided the initial value of the practice, creating a playing board upon which multiple options could be compared proved to be even more powerful. These tools allowed leaders and their staff members to compete against each other or against historical records in an attempt to determine which would be the most effective (Perla, 1990).

We would need more information about the pieces and board game to give a better answer. Also you might be able to get an answer on the history stack exchange side as they might be able to approach it from a side that has more information on Viking history.

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    The article doesn't say what game it was, but the board game for Viking chieftains, for several hundred years, was Hnefatafl. Sep 15, 2017 at 3:49
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    @ForgetIwaseverhere That might be a safe assumption if we had some basic knowledge about what these pieces and board looked like.. Neither article has any description of them other then making a claim that they are gaming related pieces. Because of this and knowledge that there are ancient tools that are similar to game pieces that have been created for the use of planning/simulation it is hard to make a jump to say exactly what they are. Until more information is provided about the items anything other then a guess isn't possible/
    – Joe W
    Sep 15, 2017 at 11:34

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