Lewis Chessmen - Uig Chessmen - Isle of Lewis - Western Isles Iconic Viking Treasures
The Wooden Carving - the Giant "King" Chessman Replica - is one of two figures that were designed by Stephen Hayward,Tain. The wooden "king" replica was placed on the machair at Ardroil near the spot where the chessmen were found , by the Uig Community Council
The Lewis Chessmen
The Lewis Chessmen which were found at Ardroil, near Uig on The Isle of Lewis - are historically very important. They are Iconic Viking treasures that have been dated as 12th century.
Unearthed in 1831, these chessmen are intricately carved from walrus tusk are well worth seeing. They have been describes as being the "greatest Chessmen of the European Middle Ages". They are part of THe History of The Isle of Lewis.
Significant Archaeological Discovery for Scotland
The largest and finest group of early chessmen to survive, the Lewis Chessmen are one of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made in Scotland. They are of of major international importance.
The Lewis Chessmen's creation began many centuries ago, high up in the Arctic Circle in the freezing waters of the Norwegian Sea. They were made from the blubbery, tusked walruses.
It is said that the Greenland hunters had taxes to pay to the Norwegian rulers to the archbishop of Trondheim. The walrus ivory was shipped to Trondheim, about 300 miles north of Oslo, where the archbishop's Nidaros Cathedral was a centre of medieval industry. It was perhaps the place where the Lewis Chessmen were carved from a shipment of walrus ivory
Carved In Walrus Tusk and Whales Teeth
The chessmen which are said to have been found at Uig on The Isle of Lewis in 1831 - these iconic Viking treasures and objects were probably made in Norway really are beautiful pieces.
Varying Opinions as to Precise Location Found
Varying opinions as to exactly where the chessmen were found There are actually slightly varying opinions as to the location where they were found. The Museum of Scotland suggest that it could well have been a few miles further away at Mealista that these pieces were found.
However it had been recorded in the New statistical Accounts of Uig in 1833 that a certain " Rev Alexander Macleod of Baile na Cille" points to what is now known as Ardroil and says that this is the place where the walrus ivory pieces were discovered at the “sands at the head of the bay of Uig”
The Uig Chessmen - The Lewis Chessmen
The Islanders call them the Uig Chessmen - after the local place on the island where they were unearthed, whilst many historians refer to them as the Lewis chessmen - so named after the actual Isle of Lewis.
It was actually in the Uig bay at Ardroil and possibly in a small drystone chamber in the dunes of Uig where it is said that they were found sometime before 11th April 1831
The Lewis Chessmen - Gaming Pieces and Buckle
The collection consist of chess pieces varying in height from 3.5cm to 10.2cm high along with 14 round gaming pieces and a beautiful delicately carved belt buckle. I was particularly taken with the belt buckle which has the most intricate markings carved into it - a lovely object.
78 Chess Pieces
There were 78 chess pieces - 8 kings, 8 queens, 15 knights,16 bishops, 12 warders and 19 pawns, perhaps indicating that there were 8 sets. All the pieces are sculptures of human figures, except the pawns which are geometric shapes and much smaller than the other pieces.
All the faces on the figures appear with bulging eyes and some say that they have "quite comical" expressions although all look pretty glum.
Knights - Castles - Berserkers
The knights are depicted holding spears and sat on what seem to be quite "small" horses.
The castles or rooks depict standing soldiers or warders holding a shield and sword, four of which are shown as wild-eyed and biting their shields with battle fury. These are said to be "berserkers" the term now used when we say "going berserk" which actually originated as the men were said to be going mad with fright for the terrible ordeal of battle that was in front of them.
Some historians believe that the large number of pieces and their lack of wear suggests that these chess pieces were perhaps the stock of a trader or dealer in such pieces.
The Lewis Chessmen were streaked with Red
Some of the chessmen found in Lewis were stained with red - and some historians say that this could have indicated that the chessboard may have been red and white as opposed to the black and white that is used nowadays. However , of course it could have been that the "red" stains may have rubbed off onto the pieces simply from other objects which had been stored near the chessmen.
The Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway Exhibition for the Lewis Chessman - Summer 2011
There were actually 93 pieces to this collection and 83 pieces are usually displayed in the British Museum with 11 pieces being displayed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh - however Stornoway are very proud to have been allowed to have a summer long exhibition showcasing some of the collection of chessmen.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to view many of the pieces which are on display here in Stornoway for this summer 2011.
Malcolm "Sprot Mcleod finds then - 1831
Facts as to who actually found this collection and where it went next , seem to vary slightly - however the consensus of island opinion here is that it was a Malcolm “Sprot” Macleod of the village of Pennydonald who found them.
Sold to Captain Roderick Ryrie - £30
It is generally believed that they were then sold on to a Captain Roderick Ryrie for £30 (quite a tidy sum in those days.) Local tales have it that Malcolm and his family were evicted from Pennydonald a few years later when the farm at Ardroil came about.
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Exhibition - Kirkpatrick Sharpe - British Museum London
They were exhibited by Ryrie at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in April 1831. After this time it is thought that ten pieces were purchased by a certain Kirkpatrick Sharpe and the remainder by the Briitish Museum in London
The BBC did a documentary in 2003 for the top ten British archaeological finds and the Lewis Chessmen were Number 5
Dated partly by their dress attire - Norse - 12th Century
The dress attire and style of the figures along with the style of carving has helped historians in identifying the fact that these figures are of Norse origin and date from the mid to late twelfth century.
Workshops - Trondheim
It is likely that they were made at one of the craftsman's workshops Trondheim in Norway and that the armour design carved into the pieces perfectly replicates armour that was being worn in Norway at that time.
The Lewis Chessmen are among the British Museum's most popular attractions. They were featured in the film 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' and inspired the children's animation 'Noggin the Nog'. They are more than just quirky figures of powerful kings, anxious queens, serene bishops, mounted knights and fierce foot-soldiers
Should the Lewis Chessmen Be Permanently Displayed on The Isle of Lewis?
Made in Norway - lost possibly on their way to Ireland - buried and washed up in The isle of Lewis, Scotland - displayed in England! - Who should have them? The big debate that is currently going on is the question of whether the Lewis Chessmen ought to be allowed to be displayed in the place where they were discovered - The Isle of Lewis.
In March 2010 a proposal to create a wing of the British Museum on The Isle of Lewis to house the famous chess pieces was rejected by the UK government. The Scottish Government is maintaining negotiations with the British Museum with the aim of ensuring that the chessmen return to Scotland permanently.
Arguments For The Pieces to be Displayed on The Isle of Lewis
Many local people on the Islands feel very strongly about this and think that the British Museum should leave the pieces to be permanently housed on the Island. My thoughts on this matter are that I can see why they should feel so passionately about this. They say that the chess pieces were found in Uig, and as such are a part of the heritage and archaeology of that area. I always maintain that archaeological finds should be displayed as close to their find spot as possible.
Historic artifacts always mean a hundred times more in context, and the Lewis Chessmen have always been a symbol for the islands.
Many local people say that if the Lewis Chess pieces had been found over the past few years, there is no doubt that they would have remained in Lewis and also argue that indeed their being housed on the Island would be of great economic worth to the Island of Lewis.
Arguments For The Chessmen to be Retained By The British Museum
Some ask - who would pay for the care and security of looking after the chessmen? Others argue that the figures need to be on display somewhere where they are displayed alongside other artifacts that are of a similar period - such so that viewers can make comparisons.
One advantage of the British Museum, say, is the astonishing concentration of artifacts, making it much easier for research in many disciplines.
Many argue that the chessmen say nothing about Scottish culture, for the simple reason that they are not Scottish. They were just left and found on Lewis and that indeed if hey were housed on lewis would it really mean that many people would actually travel to The Outer Hebrides to especially to see them? Many say that the chessmen will be seen and enjoyed by many more people if they are displayed in London and /or Edinburgh
Are There Any More Such Priceless Artifacts Lewis?
As the pieces found are not complete sets - could it be that there are more pieces to be found buried under the Uig machair? Or hidden in a crofthouse? Who knows - I expect many have searched but as time goes on everyday we hear of more important historic finds being unearthed - so lets keep an open mind - perhaps Lewis will turn up more Viking Treasures
Chess - History of the Game - and a Few Interesting Facts
The game of chess has been around for many hundreds of years, exactly how far back is debatable. Some historians say that it was first in China in about the 2nd century that it appeared.
It is said that the CHinese game of Xiangqi was an early form of chess. Others say that it originated in India or Afghanistan before 600AD - however it is thought that the game spread across Asia - being popular in Japan where it was called Shogi and in Persia where it was called Shatranj.
It is thought that variations of the game were first played in India, Persia and China. Most historians feel the closest ancestor to chess was an Indian game called “Chaturanga” which means the four divisions of the Indian army. It was a four handed game of war with the board as the battlefield. The pieces were figural chessmen, depicting the Indian army of elephants, horses, chariots and foot soldiers that protected the raja. There was no queen in these games. Her position was filled by the vizier, the minister to the ruler.
Chess - Originally a Game for the Kings, Royalty and Upper Class
Once reserved primarily for Kings and members of the upper classes, chess is now played by people of all ages and backgrounds from across the world.
Chess in Europe in the 9th Century
In the mid 9th century the chess game navigated to Europe, most like through invasions by Persian and other Moslem armies. The name of he game of the chess had been altered to Shah (King in Persian) which refers to the games rules. By 10th century the game of chess was well known all over Europe being popular in many area largely due to the Scandinavian Vikings travels.
The term "Check Mate" is Persian
The term check-mate’ is derived from the Persian term ‘Shah-mat’, which means ‘The King is Dead’.
The name of the pieces we call rooks is similar to Indian chariot, protecting the army’s flank. The term comes from from the Persian term ‘Roth’ meaning a Soldier. The Persian term actually comes from an Indian term ‘Rukh’, - from the Sanskrit word Rakshak which means a soldier which means, “to protect”. Rooks became "castles" in the mid 17th century.
In the 17th century the knight sitting on the horse began to be replaced by just the horses head
First International Chess Tournament
The first international Chess tournament was held in London in 1851. It was won by Adolf Anderssen, a German professor of mathematics
Middle Ages - Rules Change
During the Middle Ages there was much experimentation with the rules of chess - some rules are still with us today. Others did not stand the test of time. The game of chess it was deemed, needed to be speeded up. Such rules included allowing pawns to move two spaces on their first move, and allowing the king and queen to jump squares in the opening turns so as to get them into play faster.
Many of the chess rules were changed permanently in the 15th century. The pawn was kept as being allowed to move two squares on its first move. The bishop could now move the entire length of the diagonal. The queen was given free reign over the board instead of being restricted to one diagonal space. This was a major milestone because the rules of chess had not changed significantly since its arrival in Europe.