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A carved rock found in Jordan may be the oldest known chess piece
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In the game of chess, a rook can move as many spaces as it can in one direction. Or, it can sit stone-still and guard the pieces around it, potentially holding its ground for an entire match — or thousands of years whichever comes first. John Oleson, an archaeologist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, believes he and his colleagues may have found one such rook that has been lying in the sand below an ancient trading post in Jordan since the seventh century.
The stout sandstone figure, excavated from the ruins of an early Islamic settlement in , has a rectangular body with two horn-like protrusions on top. While this may look far from the crenellated castle towers we call rooks today, it’s spot-on for rooks in the earliest known chess sets , where those swift-moving pieces were shaped to evoke horse-drawn chariots.
The word “rook” comes from “rukh,” the Persian word for chariot. If the tiny sandstone figure Oleson excavated is indeed a rook, it may be the single oldest chess piece ever discovered, dating to roughly 1, years ago. Chess is believed to have originated in India about 1, years ago before quickly spreading westward and beyond. Oleson and his colleagues discovered the “rook” while excavating an ancient site called Humayma, which sits along a once-prominent trading route in southern Jordan that linked India to the Near East and Middle East.
Humayma thrived over hundreds of years and in the shadows of many cultures; structures at the site include a Roman fort, Byzantine churches, early Islamic mosques and several stone tombs dating to as early as the first century. It was in the early Islamic ruins, dating to the seventh century, where the researchers uncovered the rook. At that time, Oleson wrote, Humayma was home to the wealthy and powerful Abbasid family, who would eventually overthrow the leaders of the region and declare themselves caliphs Islamic rulers considered successors to the prophet Muhammed.
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Chaturanga is also the likely ancestor of the East Asian strategy games xiangqi Chinese chess , janggi Korean chess , and shogi Japanese chess. Play involves no hidden information. Each player begins with 16 pieces : one king , one queen , two rooks , two knights , two bishops , and eight pawns. Each piece type moves differently, with the most powerful being the queen and the least powerful the pawn.
The objective is to checkmate the opponent’s king by placing it under an inescapable threat of capture. To this end, a player’s pieces are used to attack and capture the opponent’s pieces, while supporting one another. During the game, play typically involves exchanging pieces for the opponent’s similar pieces, and finding and engineering opportunities to trade advantageously or to get a better position.
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Release Date: End of Compared to chess, Chess 2 relies much less on memorized openings and more on positional play. There are fewer draws, and the asymmetric gameplay with multiple matchups keeps the game fresh and interesting from the very first move. There are thousands of variants to chess, but only one has claimed the title of sequel.
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By Bruce Bower. November 22, at am. This roughly 1,year-old rectangular piece of rock with two hornlike projections on top resembles several rooks, also known as castles, that have been found at other Islamic sites in the region. But those other rooks date to a century or more later, John Oleson, an archaeologist at the University of Victoria in Canada, said. He presented his analysis of the carved rock on November 21 at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
Surviving written accounts indicate that chess originated in India at least 1, years ago, Oleson said. Merchants and diplomats probably carried the game westward. The suspected chess piece, excavated at Humayma, located on what was once a major trade route, dates to between and , when an Islamic family owned and ran the site. It also brought together people with diverse backgrounds. Islamic texts from that time portray chess matches between Muslims and Christians and between rich and poor players.
Rooks from southwestern Asia in the shape of two-horse chariots date to as early as the late s. The two-pronged shape of early Islamic rooks may have been meant to represent such chariots, Oleson said. The possibly record-setting Humayma rook is now stored at the University of Victoria.
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AlexandraMaeJ Contact. A small, rectangular stone right , previously excavated at the Jordanian site of Humayma shown at left , may be the oldest known chess piece, a rook dating to around 1, years ago. In an abstract published in October, University of Victoria professor John Oleson announced that a piece of carved sandstone that was found in southern Jordan at Humayma may be an ancient rook — a castle shaped piece in the game. According to Oleson, the object has the same abstract shape that other early Islamic chess pieces had.
The history of chess dates back around 1, years and is thought to have originated in India, although the names and rules have changed several times over the centuries. Between and , he and his team excavated the settlement centre over the course of seven field sessions. Viking-era chess piece bought for a few pounds to fetch more at auction.
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