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'Ivory Vikings' - the most famous chessmen

Posted: Wed Sep 09, 2015 11:07 am
by Sean Evans
'Ivory Vikings' - the most famous chessmen

The Manchester Journal
Posted: 09/08/2015 01:32:21 PM EDT0 Comments

"Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them," by Nancy Marie Brown, is a richly imagined journey into the Viking world that created the Lewis chessmen, once called "the most important chess pieces in history" by the New York Times.

In the early 1800s, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 92 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. The discovery raised many questions, most importantly, who carved them, where, and why? Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world. Harry played Wizard's Chess with them in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Housed at the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland, with six now on permanent loan in the Isle of Lewis, they are among each museum's most visited and beloved objects.

"Ivory Vikings" explores the mystery of the Lewis chessmen by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games. In the process, "Ivory Vikings" presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic and the sea road connecting countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America.

The story of the Lewis chessmen explains the economic lure behind the Viking voyages to the west in the 800s and 900s. And finally, it brings from the shadows an extraordinarily talented woman artist of the twelfth century: Margret the Adroit of Iceland.

Nancy Marie Brown will be discussing her book, "Ivory Vikings," at the Northshire Bookstore on Saturday, Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. For more information, visit the bookstore online at

Lewis Chessmen pieces returned to Uig

Posted: Fri Sep 11, 2015 11:18 am
by Sean Evans
Lewis Chessmen pieces returned to Uig

SIX pieces from the world’s most famous chess set have been returned to the Outer Hebrides, where they were discovered in the 19th century.

A king, queen, bishop, knight, warder and pawn from the famous Lewis Chessmen have been revealed as the pieces returning to the Scots island where they were discovered more than 150 years ago.

Carved from ivory from walrus tusk, the chessmen were found in 1831 near Uig, where they had been buried, and have been dated as 12th century.

Normally on display in the British Museum in London and National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the chessmen are set to go on show permanently as part of a loan agreement between Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the British Museum.

The chessmen will be the centrepiece of the new Museum of the Western Isles at Lews Castle, Stornoway and will go on display in time for its grand opening later this year.

Lews Castle has been repaired and restored at a cost of £8.5 million over the past two years.

Of the 93 known pieces of the Lewis Chessmen, 11 are in Edinburgh and 82 in the British Museum.

They are understood to have been made in Norway around AD 1150-2000.

But an American author has claimed the valuable pieces may have been carved by a woman in Iceland.

In a newly released book, called Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World, Nancy Marie Brown suggests an Icelandic bishop fond of decorative arts commissioned a woman called Margret the Adroit to produce chess sets.

This theory has also been proposed by Icelanders Gudmunder Thorarinsson and Einar Einarsson, who said only in Iceland were the bishops given that name at the time.

In other countries they were given a name unassociated with the church.

Local councillor Iain Mackenzie, who represents Stornoway north, said the new home of the chess pieces was “beautiful”.

He added: “It’s an exciting thing to happen but it’s a pity they won’t take all the pieces up here.

“The castle is exceptional place for the chessmen.”

And Councillor Charlie Nicolson, for Stornoway South, added: “We’re really pleased that they’re coming back and it will be good for tourism.

“It’s good that some of them can come back home where they were found.”

The chessmen have previously been on short-term loan to the Western Isles, most recently in 2011, when 21,000 people visited them.

It is expected they will go on long-term loan to the Museum of the Western Isles later in the year.