Wooden chess pieces from the site of Rubayqa
Late Islamic Period
Object Name: Chess pieces
Period: Late Islamic Period
Date: 1 600 - 1 930
Provenance: South East Asia / India
Dimensions: King: 5.3cm height x 1.9cm base diam.; King or Queen: 4.6cm height x 2cm base diam.; Rook or Pawn: 3.1cm height x 2.1cm base diam.
Medium: wood
Registration Number: ARC.2011.8.238
Place Of Discovery/Findspot:  Al Rubaiqa
These three chess pieces were discovered in a fort at the archaeological site of Rubayqa, northern Qatar, in a stratum dating to the 18th century. They are carved in wood and were rendered in an unrealistic manner, in order to be easily held by the player during the game.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Asia was the biggest supplier of chess pieces to Europe and America. Among these 2 pieces one can recognise the Shah (giving its name to the game, Shatranj); the Firzan (the Advisor or Vizier); and the two main pieces which include the current king and queen. Their shapes are stretched with pointed detail at the top, although only one has been preserved in this case. The round central piece could be the elephant which is equivalent to the tower used today. The three pieces bear traces of a plaster coating that would have been applied with colour to designate the two opponents. Popular colours used in Asian since the 19th century include white and green.

Chess was not only a game; its practice was also useful for studying the strategy of war, and as an allegory of the celestial spheres. In addition, the chessboard was used to perform mathematical calculations.
Late Islamic Period, after 1600

Advances in maritime navigation, and the development of the region’s pearl industry, spurred international trade and stimulated the pearl fishing industry of Qatar and the Gulf. New pearling and trading towns sprang up on the north and east coast of Qatar, including Al Zubara, Qatar's UNESCO World Heritage Site. Zubara started life as a pearl fishing town in the second half of the 18th century but rapidly became the main trading town of the Gulf, transporting goods between Iraq, Iran, India and the wider Indian Ocean region. Its fortifications, market, magnificent houses, mosques and palaces survive today as an archaeological site in the north of Qatar. These connections drew Qatar and its people into global networks of exchange and consumption to an unprecedented degree.
In the 17th century the Ottomans and Persians continued to exercise power in the Gulf, but European colonial powers were increasingly intruding into the region. Since the early 16th century, the Portuguese had imposed their rule after subjugating the Kingdom of Hormuz. By the early 17th century their hold had loosened as the English allied with the Persian Safavid dynasty, and then, with the Omanis, expelled them from the region. The Dutch were also involved, but eventually the region became part of the British Empire, ruled from India.

During this time, most of the major towns of the Gulf were founded, many of which are the capitals of the Gulf states today. The regions’ inhabitants took advantage of expanding opportunities for pearl fishing and trade. New global trading patterns emerged, yet ancient trading networks persisted.
GREY, T., 2011, "Late Trade Wares on Arabian Shores: 18th to 20th Century Imported Fineware Ceramics from Excavated Sites on the Southern Persian (Arabian) Gulf Coast," in Post-Medieval Archaeology 45/2, pp. 350–373.

PETERSEN, A., 2011, "Research on an Islamic period settlement at Ra\'s \'Ushayriq in northern Qatar and some observations on the occurrence of date presses," in Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 41, pp. 1–12.

RUSS, H. & PETERSEN, A., 2013, "Fish and fishing during the late Islamic period at Rubayqa, northern Qatar: preliminary results," in Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 43, pp. 277–284.
Al Rubaiqa