Lewis chessmen

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The Lewis Chessmen (or Uig Chessmen, named after the bay where they were found) are a group of 78 chess pieces from the 12th century most of which are carved in walrus ivory, discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.[1] They may constitute some of the few complete medieval chess sets that have survived until today, although it is not clear if any full set as originally made can be made up from the varied pieces. They are currently owned and exhibited by the British Museum in London, which has 67 of them and the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, which has the rest. There has been recent controversy about the most appropriate place for the main display of the pieces.

Contents

Origin

The chessmen were probably made in Norway, perhaps by craftsmen in Trondheim, in the 12th century,[2] although some scholars have suggested other sources in the Nordic countries.[3] During that period the Outer Hebrides, along with other major groups of Scottish islands, were ruled by Norway.[2]

According to Dr. Alex Woolf, director of the Institute for Medieval Studies of the University of St. Andrews, reasons for believing the chess pieces probably came from Trondheim include: a broken queen piece in a similar style found in an excavation of the archbishop's palace (it appeared the piece was broken as it was being made), the presence of wealthy people in Trondheim capable of paying craftsmen for the high-quality pieces, similar carving in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, the excavation in Trondheim of a kite-shaped shield similar to shields on some of the pieces, and a king piece of similar design found on Hitra Island, near the mouth of Trondheim Fjord. He said that the armour worn by the chess figures includes "perfect" reproductions of armour worn at the time in Norway.[4]

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