The Isle of Lewis Chessmen

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The Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces - An Introduction

Nearly 200 years ago a hoard was uncovered on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis. This hoard contained 93 carvings: one buckle, 14 pieces of a game called tables and 78 medieval chess pieces.

Isle of Lewis Chessmen
THE ORIGINAL ISLE OF LEWIS CHESSMEN - Image © National Museums Scotland

Today the pieces light up the imagination in many people and spark debate and discussion over the origin and history of the find. What it is about the chess men that have captured the fancy of people? Perhaps it is the mystery of the past or perhaps it is that each person has the ability to pose their own theory and form their own beliefs until such a time as the history of the pieces can be given with 100 percent certainty.

There are three statements that can be made about the Lewis Chessmen without resulting in debate. The pieces were made from walrus tusks and whale teeth. The pieces were created in the time frame of 1150-1200 AD. The artist who created the pieces was a master of his or her craft.

Each detail about these iconic pieces, with the exception of the three agreed-upon statements, has questions with numerous answers that could apply, and each answer is backed with supporting evidence.

The questions themselves are seemingly endless –
Where were they made? Who made them? Where were they found? Who found them? How did they come to be buried in a sand dune? Where do they belong?
These are only a few of the questions that surround this exquisite historical find.

If only these pieces could talk…