Stunning reconstruction reveals ‘lonely boy’ with deformed skull who died in cave in Norway 8,300 years ago
By Laura Geggel
A new reconstruction of one of Norway’s oldest known skeletons shows a teenager with an unusual skull who may have died alone in a cave.
About 8,300 years ago, a teenage boy with an unusual skull and short stature may have scampered along the rocky coast of what is now Norway, pausing to regain his balance as he clutched a fishing rod. Now, a new full-body reconstruction of the Stone Age teenager — nicknamed Vistegutten, Norwegian for “the boy from Viste” — is on display at the Hå Gamle Prestegard museum in southern Norway.
The boy’s reconstruction was a months-long project, but researchers have known about Vistegutten since 1907, when archaeologists found his remains in a Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, cave in Randaberg, along Norway’s western coast.
A few things stand out about the 15-year-old boy: At 4 feet, 1 inch (1.25 meters) tall, he was short for his age, even by Mesolithic standards; a condition known as scaphocephaly meant that his skull had fused too early, forcing his head to grow backward instead of sideways; and he may have died alone, as his remains were found as if he had been leaning against a cave wall.
“Either he was placed like this after his death, or he actually died in this position,” Oscar Nilsson, a forensic artist based in Sweden who created the boy’s likeness, told Live Science in an email. “This can give the impression of a lonely boy, waiting in vain for his friends and family to show up … but we know nothing about how he died.”
Remembering Hnefatafl, the 1,000-year-old Viking board game murdered by chess
“It was the most prominent board game in Northern Europe for hundreds of years, so however it was played, it was engaging.”
“In the town of Birka, on an island in Lake Mälaren near Stockholm, Sweden, there lies a ninth-century burial site once described as “the ultimate Viking warrior grave.”
Among the artifacts excavated here were a sword, an ax, two spears, a knife, 25 arrows (the bow had probably rotted over the course of more than 1,000 years), two shields, and a pair of horses. But that wasn’t all the grave contained. On the lap of the deceased, archaeologists found a bag of dice and gaming pieces carved from bone. A board for the ancient Viking game hnefatafl had been propped up beside the body.
But this Viking wasn’t just a hobbyist. Academic games historian Eddie Duggan tells Inverse that the warrior in question — who was originally believed to be a “high-status male” but later discovered to have been biologically female through DNA analysis — was likely some sort of military commander.
“The gaming pieces are associated with strategy, implying the warrior would also have been a military leader or commander,” Duggan says. “So we have a female cavalry commander, dressed in her finery, along with her horses, her weapons, and her game board and gaming pieces, buried alongside fellow elite military commanders.”
Burying high-ranking members of the elite class with valuable artifacts was fairly standard practice across various ancient and medieval cultures. It isn’t surprising to learn that this particular warrior was interred with enough weaponry for a small army. What fewer people might know is what exactly the gaming board was for: a millennium-old Viking board game that was unceremoniously usurped by a hip new enterprise called “chess” in the 12th century.
In the end, chess and hnefatafl were simply too alike to co-exist.
“Chess certainly wiped out a lot of games,” says Martha Bayless, who has a Ph.D. in Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic from Cambridge University. “Tafl was a war game, as is chess, so they fit into a similar space in culture. The other very popular early medieval game was a form of backgammon, which is a racing game, and that game continued strong all the way through, as we can see by the fact that people still play backgammon to this day. So it was in the realm of war games that tafl lost out to chess.”
As for now, the future of tafl is unclear. Technically speaking, we still don’t know the rules, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to show up anytime soon. Still, Bayless makes a convincing argument for the continued importance of hnefatafl.
“The last record of tafl being played as part of the long tradition, rather than part of a revival, was in 1889, among the Sámi,” says Bayless. “So recent, comparatively speaking. How I wish someone had asked those players what the rules were! I entertain a fantasy that it’s still played somewhere in an obscure family who don’t know the rest of us are looking for it. But whenever I inquire among anyone with connections to that area of the world, they shake their heads. So probably the long tradition — perhaps some 1,500 years of a very popular game — is really dead, and revivals are all we have.” (https://www.inverse.com/culture/viking-board-games-hnefatafl)
The CCCSA Summer 2019 GM/IM Norm Invitational was held at the Charlotte Chess Center & Scholastic Academy June 6-9. There were three sections, GM; IM B; & IM C. After an overview we will focus on the IM B section for reasons which will become clear soon enough. But first I would like to mention the GM section ended in a tie between GM Karen Grigoryan, of Armenia, and IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy, from the USA. Grigoryan was running away with the tournament until losing to IM Kassa Korley in the penultimate round. In the last round Grigoryan lost to Ostrovskiy while still clinging to a share of the lead.
now a resident of the Great State of Georgia, ran away with the section, finishing a clear point ahead of the field with 7 1/2 points. IM Felix Jose Ynojosa Aponte,
from Venezuela, was second with 6 1/2 points. They met in the seventh round:
Felix Jose Ynojosa Aponte (VEN) vs Alonso Zapata (COL)
Charlotte Summer Invitational IM 2019 round 07
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nf3 Bd6 5. Bd3 Ne7 6. O-O (SF plays 6 b3 a move not seen since 1999, according to 365Chess. The move has appeared in only four games. There are no games at the ChessBaseDataBase with the move)
O-O 7. h3 (SF plays 7 Re1; Komodo plays 7 b3 a TN) c6 8. Re1 Ng6 (TN-SF plays 8…Na6) 9. c4 ½-½
Granted, this was the second game of the day so there must have been little thought from the GM other than to accept the gift. Zapata was born in August, 1958 and is currently sixty one years old. Aponte was born in 1996, and had the white pieces, yet did not even attempt to make a game of it against his much older rival. This reminds of the time decades ago when Ron Burnett had been paired with Sammy Reshevsky at a tournament such as the US Open, or maybe a World Open. Ron was ready for the battle, talking trash about what he was about to do to his opponent. “But Ron,” I said, “Sammy is a legend.” Ron shot back, “He ain’t nothing but an old man.” Once a player reaches a certain age he becomes the Rodney Dangerfield of Chess.
This was Aponte’s moment and what did he do? He offered a draw…Aponte has no cojones and unless he grows a pair in the near future the GM title will remain out of reach. Contrast the “game” and I use the term loosely, with Zapata’s last round game:
Tying for third place were Georgia native NM Richard Francisco,
now thirty five years of age, and his last round opponent NM Zachary Dukic,
from Canada. They both finished with 6 points; 6 1/2 were required to earn an IM norm.
In the first round Richard faced a young (birth year 1997) IM Martin Lokander, from Sweden.
NM Richard Francisco (USA) – Martin Lokander (SWE)
Charlotte Summer Invitational IM 2019 round 01
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Bd7 5. Nf3 a6 (5…Nc6 SF) 6. Bd3 cxd4 (Komodo and Stockfish at the CBDB both play 6…Nc6, but the SF at ChessBomb considers 6…Qc7, a potential TN, equal to Nc6) 7. cxd4 Bb5 (SF prefers 7…Nc6)
8. O-O? (This shows a lack of understanding of the position and is the beginning of problems for Richard. Both the Fish and the Dragon would play 8 Bc2. There are many other, better, moves, such as 8 Bxb5+; 8 Nc3; and 8 Bg5, all shown at the ChessBomb) Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Ne7 10. Nc3 Nbc6 (For 10 N3c6 see Papahristoudis v Savoglou below) 11. Ne2 Rc8 12. Bd2 Nf5 13. Nf4 Be7
14. g3? (This is obviously a very weak move and gives the advantage to black. There was no need to voluntarily weaken the castled position. Richard needs to read Sam Shankland’s book…Stockfish says 14 Rac1 keeps the game balanced. Unfortunately for our hero Richard, the game went downhill from here. This is my last comment on the game, which can be found here, along with input from Stockfish, albeit with little time to “cogitate.” https://www.chessbomb.com/arena/2019-charlotte-summer-invitational-im/01-Francisco_Richard-Lokander_Martin)
It must have been devastating to lose, especially with the white pieces, in the very forst round when one needs 6 1/2 points to earn an IM norm. To make matters worse, Richard had to face the only GM in the tournament in the second round.
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. f4 (Not the best move in the position. Stockfish 10 at depth 49 would play 6 a3, a move which does not appear at the ChessBaseDataBase. SF 080219 at depth 46 plays 6 Be3, the most often played move, while SF 9 at depth 38 plays the second most often played move, 6 Be2) 6…a6 7 Nxc6 (The most often played move, but Komodo would play 7 Be2) 7…Qxc6 (Although the most often played move, SF 10 would play 7…bxc6) 8. Bd3 d6 (SF plays 8…b5, by far the most often played move) 9. a4 (SF 10 simply castles) 9…Nf6 10. O-O Be7 11. Kh1 (SF & Komodo prefer 11 Be3) 11…Qc7 (SF would castle) 12. Qe2 (Unfortunately, Qe2 is not always the best move. SF would play 12 a5) 12…O-O (SF 10 would play 12…b6) 13. e5 Nd7 14. exd6 Bxd6 15. Ne4 Be7 16. f5 (Komodo plays 16 Be3)
exf5 17. Bf4 SF plays 17 Ng3) Ne5 18. Ng3 Bd6 19. Bxf5 Ng6 (SF shows 19…Nc4 best) 20. Bxd6 Qxd6 21. Rad1 Qc7 22. c3 Bxf5 (SF prefers 22…Ne5) 23. Nxf5 Rad8 24. Rd4 (SF plays 24 Qg4) 24…Rfe8 (SF would play 24…Ne5)
25. Qf3 Rxd4 25 f6 SF) 26. cxd4 Qd7 (Houdini plays the “in your face” 26…Qf4) 27. h4 Nf8 (SF plays 27…Qe6) 28. d5 (28 h5 SF) f6 29. h5 Re5 (The Fish would rip off the pawn with 29…Qxa4) 30. d6 (The Dragon would play 30 b3) 30…Kh8 (Komodo would play 30…Qe6) 31. h6 g6 32. Ng3 (SF considers 32 Ne3 a much better move) 32…Qxd6 33. Qxb7 (Stockfish 10 would play 33 Ne4. The Fish at DaBomb would play 33 Qxf6) Re7 34. Qa8 (Komodo prefers 34 Ne4) Rf7 (SF 10 likes this move) 35. Ne4 Qe5 36. Nxf6 (Both the Fish and the Dragon prefer 36 b4) 36…Qg5 (36…Qe2 Komodo) 37. Qe8 (Both the Fish and the Dragon would take the pawn with 37 Qxa6) 37…Qxh6+ (37…Qh4+) 38. Kg1 Qg7 39. Qd8 h5
Richard bested CM Abhimanyu Mishra with the black pieces in round 3 and FM Sahil Sinha with the white pieces in the fourth round before holding the draw with the black pieces against FM Seth Homa in the following round. He drew with the white pieces with the aforementioned Aponte in the first game played Saturday, June 8 before winning with black against FM Nikhil Kumar in the second Saturday game. This put Richard in the postition of needing to win both games the following day, Sunday.
Now it was time for the final round, a game Mr. Francisco needed to win to obtain an IM norm. His opponent was a Canadian NM, born in 1997, the lowest rated player in the event, who was having a very good tournament. Like Richard the Canuck also had 5 1/2 points and needed a win to garner the coveted IM norm.
During research for this post the following comment by Mr. Dukic was found:
“Well guys I almost got the norm. I needed a 2450 performance but since I drew my last game I only managed 2437.
I had 4.5/7 going into the final day and I would need 2/2 to secure the norm, including winning a game with black against a Swedish International Master. I managed to win this, so I only needed to win with white in the last round to secure the norm. If my opponent were to win, then he would win the norm. If we drew, nobody would get it. It was truly the money game!
It came down to a king and pawn endgame (see below) where I was one tempo short of victory. It resembles the endgame in Searching for Bobby Fischer except for one key detail: black’s pawn on c6 prevents my queen from controlling his queening square 😥
For those of you who followed along, hope you enjoyed it!”
I spent much time following the games from Charlotte via the internet, when it was up. The service received from AT&T leaves much to be desired. Frankly, having AT&T is like living in a third world country, with constant outages. The internet is frequently down and when down, stays down for many hours. Nevertheless, I persevered, while either muttering expletives, or screaming things like, “That blankety blank AT&T!!!”
One of the best things about viewing the games was they were given at ChessStream (http://chessstream.com/Invitational/Default.aspx) sans annotations so I could think for myself before heading over to the ChessBomb to learn what Stockfish, with little time and depth, had to say about the move and/or position.