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Sutton Hoo: Cut-throat competition for Anglo-Saxon chess champs

11:30 12 August 2014

Hnefatafi championship at Sutton Hoo. An Anglo Saxon and Viking version of Chess.  Shane and Brain Wilson, Ian and Angelica Kirkbride, Pete Jennings, Gregg McDowell and Guy Lown

Hnefatafi championship at Sutton Hoo. An Anglo Saxon and Viking version of Chess. Shane and Brain Wilson, Ian and Angelica Kirkbride, Pete Jennings, Gregg McDowell and Guy Lown

Visitors to a celebrated archeological site in Suffolk arrived hoping that the ancient Anglo-Saxon version of chess was easier to play than it is to pronounce.

Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, invited people along to learn the game and even participate in the national Hnefatafl championships.

Hnefatafl has links to the National Trust site as pieces were found with the dead warriors buried in some of the mounds 75 years ago.

The unusual game was brought to Sutton Hoo by Anglo Saxon re-enactment group Ealdfaeder - meaning ‘Old Father’ or ‘Ancestor’.

Pete Jennings, one of Ealdfaeder’s organisers said: ‘The Saxon/Viking board game Hnefatafl, which means King’s Table, can be learnt in a couple of minutes. It is the fiendish tactics that make it fun though.”

Mr Jennings was also there to defend the English National Hnefatafl Champion title he won in 2013.

Sutton Hoo is famous for being the site of the largest and best preserved ship burial known on English soil.

Though the ship itself had long dissolved into sand, many of its treasures remained, arranged around the burial of a king or great warrior.

Ruaidhri O’Mahony, National Trust visitor operations manager at Sutton Hoo, said: “One of the discoveries found in the royal burial was a collection of playing pieces.

“The Anglo Saxons very much enjoyed playing games using counters or figures, and the remains of such games are often found in Saxon graves of all social levels.

“Strangely, one of the ivory characters of the Sutton Hoo burial had been separated from the rest, wrapped in textiles and placed in a silver bowl. We can only speculate about the meaning of this mysterious arrangement.”

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