‘Mystery’ medieval board game found carved into stone slab in remains of 16th century castle
Thought to be around 500-years-old, a board game has been discovered carved in stone in the castle in Ćmielów.
Carved into a sandstone floor slab by the castle’s original builders, the game was discovered by archaeologist Tomasz Olszacki during excavations at the 16th century castle.
Measuring around 13.5 centimetres in length and width, Olszacki told National Geographic Polska that the game could have been carved by construction workers seeking to gamble their earnings in their spare time.
According to Olszacki, though, the game could just have easily been carved in later years by children or servants.
Although its exact origins remain unclear, it seems certain that the game itself was called Mill, a strategy board game that is thought to have ancient origins – aside from being enjoyed by the Romans, Confucious is also thought to have been a player.
Contested between two players, it was also known as Nine Men’s Morris, Merels and ninepenny marl.
Despite its ancient roots, the game crested in popularity during Medieval times, particularly in England, with examples of stone-carved boards found in cathedrals in Canterbury, Chester, Westminster, Gloucester, Norwich and Salisbury.
Yet others have been found in Italy and inside castles built by the Crusaders.
Challenging players to place three pieces in a line, this is not the first time the game has been found in Poland – previously, a board has been found in a 13th century church in Opole, whilst depictions of people playing the game have been discovered inscribed on 15th century stove tiles in Wielkopolska.
Olszacki’s find is the latest twist in the castle’s story. Erected between 1519 and 1531 on the orders of local nobleman Krzysztof Szydłowiecki, it was captured during the Swedish Deluge, later swapping owners several times.
By 1800 much of it had been converted into a brewery before being turned into a bathhouse in 1905, in 1944 it was repurposed as a German military hospital.
Privately bought in 2009, it slid into decline before being repurchased in 2022 by a businessman from Gdańsk.
With the core of the castle long resembling little more than a ruin, however, it has recently been subject to renewed archaeological scrutiny, and it was this ongoing research that yielded the extraordinary discovery of the board game.