Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces

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These chessmen were probably made in Norway, perhaps by craftsmen in Trondheim, in the 12th century, although some scholars have suggested other sources in the Nordic countries.During that period, the Outer Hebrides, along with other major groups of Scottish islands, were ruled by Norway.

According to Dr. Alex Woolf, director of the Institute for Medieval Studies of the University of St. Andrews, there are a number of reasons for believing the chess pieces probably came from Trondheim: a broken queen piece in a similar style found in an excavation of the archbishop's palace (it appeared the piece was broken as it was being made), the presence of wealthy people in Trondheim able to pay craftsmen for the high-quality pieces, similar carving in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, the excavation in Trondheim of a kite-shaped shield similar to shields on some of the pieces and a king piece of similar design found on Hitra Island, near the mouth of Trondheim Fjord. Woolf has said that the armour worn by the chess figures includes "perfect" reproductions of armour worn at the time in Norway.

Some historians believe that the Lewis chessmen were hidden (or lost) after some mishap occurred during their carriage from Norway to wealthy Norse towns on the east coast of Ireland, such as Dublin. The large number of pieces and their lack of wear may suggest that they were the stock of a trader or dealer in such pieces. Along with the chess pieces, there were 14 plain round tablemen for the game of tables and one belt buckle, all made of ivory, making a total of 93 artifacts.

Another suggestion, put forward by Icelanders Gudmundur G. Thorarinsson and Einar S. Einarsson, is that the chessmen originated in Iceland. The pair claim that the most important indicator of Icelandic origins is the presence of bishops among the Lewis Chessmen, such pieces first being used in Iceland. However, this is disputed by Woolf, who stated that the use of bishops originated in England.The Icelandic hypothesis has been thoroughly criticized by chess historian and member of the Ken Whyld Association Morten LilleĆøren, who has written two articles on the subject, "The Lewis Chessmen Were Never Anywhere Near Iceland!" and "The Lewis Chessmen on a Fantasy Iceland".

Read the rest of the article on the Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces from Wikipedia and find out about the controversy surrounding the placement of these famous pieces!


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