Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Scottish MP demands return of the Lewis Chessmen

A Scottish Member of Parliament is demanding that the entire collection of Lewis Chessmen be permanently kept in Scotland. He is upset that the British Museum, which houses some of these medieval figures, is now saying that the chessmen were created in Norway instead of northern Scotland.

Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil said “The British Museum’s treatment of this link raises real questions about where the chessmen should be displayed permanently.

“If the British Museum isn’t able to do justice to some of Scotland’s most important historical artifacts, then it’s time to bring them back to the Hebrides.

“It’s great to see that the pieces held by the British Museum will be temporarily reunited with those in the National Museum of Scotland as part of a major touring exhibition, giving people across Scotland the chance to see them. But questions must be asked over the long-term placement of the pieces which remain in London.”

Mr MacNeil said last night he had raised the issue because of the way the British Museum’s advertisement for the exhibition attributed the chessmen to Norway, which ruled the Western Isles around the time the pieces were made.

The research was led by Dr David Caldwell of the National Museum of Scotland, who believes the Lewis chessmen were more likely to have belonged to a high-ranking person who lived on Lewis.
Dr Caldwell said that many of the pieces could have doubled for Hnefatafl, another conflict game which also pitted a king against pawns or warriors on the other side.

Dr Caldwell said the research team believed the pieces were Scandinavian in origin, perhaps made in a workshop by several masters in a city such as Trondheim.

Their research was published in the journal Medieval Archaeology.

In a separate interview, MacNeil disputes these findings, saying, "We only know two real things about the Lewis chessmen prior to 1831.

"They were made from walrus ivory, or whale teeth, and they were buried on Lewis for hundreds of years.

"They might well have been made in Norway, but they might well have been made in Lewis and there are some who say the carvings on the side of them would place them on Lewis."

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said: "It is generally accepted that the chessmen were made in Norway, during this period the Western Isles, where the chessmen were buried, were part of the kingdom of Norway not Scotland."

The British Museum is also working with the National Museums of Scotland on a tour of a group of the chessmen to four venues across Scotland in 2010-11.

Click here to read our previous articles:

Lewis Chessmen might not be Chessmen

The Lewis Chessmen tour Scotland