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Saturday, 27 July, 2002, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Ancient chess history unearthed
Butrint
The chess piece was found in the ancient city of Butrint
A team of British archaeologists has unearthed evidence suggesting that Europeans were playing chess as early as the sixth century.

An ivory chess piece, excavated at a Byzantine palace in what is now southern Albania, is more than 500 years older than any previously discovered.

Leaders of the University of East Anglia expedition said it proved the game had a much longer history in Europe than was previously thought.

Until now chess historians had agreed that the game only became popular with the European elite during the 12th Century, 700 years after it was invented in China, India or ancient Persia.

Walrus ivory

The chess piece, which is only lightly damaged, was unearthed in the ancient city of Butrint.

Professor Richard Hodges said: "We are wondering if it is the king or queen because it has a little cross but we are not sure."

Map of Albania
The chess piece was found in Butrint, Albania
The team is now trying to find out exactly which piece it has found.

He said historians believed chess became popular in the early 12th Century, because of walrus ivory chessmen found in Scotland's Outer Hebrides.

Other pieces were found as far afield as southern Italy.

"However, it now looks as though it was already being played in the central Mediterranean over 500 years earlier," Professor Hodges said.

The excavation team, which works with local archaeologists, also discovered coins.

See also:

09 Sep 01 | UK
08 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
31 Jul 01 | Europe
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