Archaeologists found an ancient chess piece in Ostozhenka

Archaeologists found an ancient chess piece in Ostozhenka
Experts believe it to be a bishop from a chess set of the 17th-18th centuries.

Moscow archaeologists found an ancient 3 cm high chess piece in Ostozhenka Street during excavations in a park near the Conception Convent. Supposedly, the artefact is dated to the 17th-18th centuries. Experts believe it to be a bishop.

“At that time, some noble families and small traders, craftsmen, minor civil servants and employees lived in Ostozhenka Street. The piece might have belonged to one of the local residents. In the 17th-18th centuries, chess was a widespread game among the educated Muscovites. Experts have concluded that this piece was made using a foot-powered lathe,” Alexei Yemelyanov, Head of the Moscow Cultural Heritage Department, said.

According to him, only wealthy people could afford a set of bone pieces. Wooden chess sets were more popular. However, archaeologists find them very rarely, since wood is poorly preserved in the ground.

Now the artefact is in the archaeological laboratory, where it is studied by experts. They are trying to determine what animal bone the piece is made of. After the restoration, it will be transferred to the holdings of one of Moscow's museums.

Valuable items from bygone days are often unearthed in Moscow. They help explain the city life of previous generations. Experts assess their state and value, and, following a thorough inspection, decide on the best way to preserve them.

A chess piece of a bone bishop found in Ostozhenka is not the first ancient chess piece found during excavations or archaeological observations in Moscow. A bishop was also found in Prechistenka in 2017, with ten coins of Ivan the Terrible era hidden inside. The artefact is dated to the mid-16th century.

Another chess piece was found more than 25 years ago, in 1993, during the massive excavations on Manezhnaya Square, where the merchants Silins' mansion used to be in the 18th-19th centuries. Mikhail Silin might have owned this chess piece. Experts suggest it once had a trove inside, too.

Chess was first mentioned in Russian sources in the Kormchaya Book of 1262. It is also known that Ivan the Terrible could play chess. According to the historian Nikolai Kostomarov, it is during a chess game with Boris Godunov on 18 March 1584 that the tsar felt unwell and died shortly afterwards.

Over the past eight years, Moscow archaeologists have found about 35,000 artefacts. A wooden cross pendant featuring St. Sergius of Radonezh, the saint patron of all students, was found during excavations in the area of Kitaigorodsky Poyezd, near Zaryadye Park and the Moskva River. In spring, experts discovered a 19th century revolver and a militia cap badge in Dolgorukovskaya Street.