Archive for November, 2013

Sore Loser’s 7th-Century Game Piece Found

By: The Scribe on November, 2013

gambling anglo saxonsModern-day board game enthusiasts are certainly familiar with this scenario: Picking out a game from the shelves, opening the box, getting the game set up, only to discover that… a piece is missing?!

In the Lyminge hall in Anglo-Saxon Kent, some 1,300 years ago, this exact scenario may have played out. Archaeologists discovered a gaming piece from the 7th-century that belonged to nobles living the high life—a life rich enough to afford expertly crafted gaming pieces, in this case a suspected 6th-century Lombard piece.

Made from hollow bone and closed with delicate wooden caps, held together by a bronze pin, the gaming piece may have been tossed aside in frustration or anger by a sore loser—a king or noble, disgusted at a loss, throwing the piece over his shoulder. Its disappearance is tantamount to having something slide under the fridge or stove—impossible to find later on, and only re-discovered under exceptional circumstances.

board gameDuring this time, it was far more common for gaming pieces to be made out of wood or chunks of bone, but this piece’s expert craftsmanship does imply that the kings of Kent weren’t hurting for luxuries during their rule.

The Anglo-Saxons were avid board gamers (and gamblers!), playing such games as tabula (an early form of backgammon) and latrunculi (similar to draughts)—and it wasn’t uncommon for men to be buried with their dice or gaming boards.

No Peanut Butter With This Ancient Jam

By: The Scribe on November, 2013

minaret jam 1In Western Afghanistan stands a 63-meter high minaret, built of yellow baked bricks with glazed tile and stucco decoration. This tall monument was constructed in the 1100s as part of a city, though few specifics about the city are currently known.

Archaeologists believe the city was a cosmopolitan area, home to Muslims, Jews, and Christians, who were able to live harmoniously despite their differences.

It’s thought by some that the minaret, known as the Minaret of Jam, may have been part of Turquoise Mountain, the lost medieval capital of Afghanistan… though this is, presently, only speculation. More on that below!

First, however, the minaret:

minaret jam 3

The minaret would have been illuminated by a torch at the top, and inside the structure are opposing spiralling staircases constructed in such a way—like a double helix—that the fragile-looking building has remained standing, despite many earthquakes in the area.

The most remarkable aspect of the minaret, however, is the decoration. The writing on the structure is from a section of the Quran that speaks of the life of Mary, mother of Jesus, which clearly highlights the similarities between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. And with  Jewish graveyard nearby, it’s hard to deny that there were people of different faiths living here at one time!

minaret jam 4

Historians and archaeologists postulate that the Minaret of Jam is placed at the ancient location of the Ghruid Dynasy’s summer capital, called Firuz Koh (Turquoise Mountain). During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Ghurids controlled the area here, which is now part of Afghanistan, as well as parts of northern India, Pakistan, and eastern Iran.

The specific dating on the minaret is somewhat unclear, leaving the exact construction date unknown, let alone its purpose (which might otherwise be guessed at by the date).

The landscape around the Jam does include some “palace” ruins, along with a pottery kiln and some fortifications, but no one lives there now—and the site is very difficult to reach.

That said, it’s impressive, and seems unique in its mystery of being a potentially unifying monument for religious beliefs that have often clashed (to a deadly degree) throughout history.

minaret jam 2

Ancient Monastery Hidden Under Thai King’s Tomb

By: The Scribe on November, 2013

It’s not every day that one discovers a secret monastery hidden underneath a historic tomb site… but that’s exactly what has happened in the Linzin Hill graveyard in Amarapura Township, Mandalay Division.

Archaeologists were excavating the tomb of King Uthumphon, who was brought as a prisoner of war to Mandalay Division in the 18th century, after being captured by Hsinbyushin, the third king of Burma’s Konbaung Dynasty.

thai king

In 1767, Hsinbyushin invaded Thailand’s ancient capital, Ayutthaya, and brought as many captured people back to his own capital, Ava, as possible for his army to move. The Thai king was among these people, and lived in monkhood until he died in captivity.

King Uthumphon’s life in monkhood during his captivity certainly helps to explain the monastery building hidden beneath his tomb, although archaeologists still aren’t certain whether the King actually lived there or if it was a home for other abbots.

It’s entirely possible that abbots lived there during King Bodawpaya’s reign between 1782-1819, or the building could be much, much older.

While there is still much excavation work to be done, plans are underway for a museum around Linzin Hill, and hopefully future work will shed addition light on the existence of this secret monastery underneath a king’s tomb!