The Lewis Chessmen

The museums and toystores of the world are replete with an endless variety of chessmen, but the ones depicted above have a most interesting provenance.
The chessmen are the most precious archaeological treasures ever discovered in Scotland. It is believed they were made in Trondheim, Norway, in the late 12th century and dug from the sands of Lewis's Atlantic coast in 1831... The pieces are brownish-white, the colour of tobacco-stained teeth, and are made from the tusks of walruses hunted, most likely, in Greenland. They are covered in tiny grooves, like frost veins on a window pane, which are thought to be the marks left by insects burrowing in the white Lewis sand...

Most striking of all are the facial expressions. These are not the interchangeable symbolic pieces of a modern chess set. These figures seem frozen in the moment of feeling strong emotions. The larger king gives a saucer-eyed scowl and looks set to pull his sword from its scabbard. The queens, as if in response, seem flustered, their palms pressed to their cheeks...

The pieces are now stored at both the National Museums Scotland and The British Museum, and are going on tour this week.   Futher details about these interesting game pieces are available at the Scotland on Sunday link.

Link.  Photo credit Finlay McWalter.

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