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image: British Museum

Walrus Ivory and Whales’ Teeth

Made in Scandinavia, probably Norway, c. 1150 – 1200

No one is quite sure of the exact circumstances of the discovery of the Lewis Chessmen.

They were found near Uig in the Isle of Lewis some time before 11 April 1831, which is when they were displayed in Edinburgh at the Society of Antiquaries for Scotland.

It seems that they were discovered in a sand dune, possibly in a drystone chamber.

When Sir Frederic Madden first published the finds in 1832, he thought that they had been made in Iceland.
This claim has been often repeated by the Icelanders themselves.

According to the British Museum:

” The historic political, economic and cultural links between the Outer Hebrides and Norway and its dominance of the Norse world might suggest that Norway is the most likely place to have produced these high status, luxury commodities”
(British Museum Website: The Lewis Chessmen)

Certainly the chessmen show strong evidence of Norse culture, particularly in the several ‘warders’ – the equivalent of the modern ‘rook’ – which take the form of Berserkers biting their shields.

Records of the time state that some of the pieces were stained red, although this has now faded.

Altogether, 94 Lewis Chessmen are known: 82 of them are in the British Museum and 11 are in National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. In 2019 another piece – a warder – was discovered See BBC news report here….

The Lewis chessman discovered in 2019
Image: BBC News


images: British Museum (click on the images to enlarge)