Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lewis Chessmen

The Lewis chessmen are a group of chess pieces discovered on the Isle of Lewis in 1831. They were carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth in the 12th Century in Norway. There are 78 pieces: 8 kings, 8 queens, 16 bishops, 15 knights, 12 rooks, and 19 pawns, from as many as 5 different sets. The pieces were probably part of the stock of a trader dealing in luxury goods. Some of the pieces bear traces of red pigment, indicating that the two sides were white and red, unlike the modern white and black. Unlike modern chess sets, the rooks are portrayed as soldiers, including four berserks, chewing their shields, while the pawns are small geometric pieces, resembling standing stones.

The collection was split up soon after its discovery. The Museum of Scotland now owns 11 of the pieces, while the British Museum owns the balance. A exhibition of pieces from both the Museum of Scotland and the British Museum, along with related artifacts is currently touring Great Britain. I hope it come to North America.

Image credits:
Berserk Rook, Rook, and Knight, RobRoyAus on Flickr.
All others, Wikimedia Commons

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