Lewis Chessmen Exhibition Opens in Edinburgh: Events to Look Out For

A reunion 180 years in waiting will occur this Friday in Edinburgh, as Lewis Chessmen pieces from north and south of the border are displayed side-by-side for the very first time at the National Museum of Scotland (NMS).

The exhibition (one of our top ten to look forward to worldwide this year) marks the arrival of a 20-piece sample of the ornate, ivory-carved 12th/13th century artefacts in Edinburgh on loan from the British Museum, and the beginning of a tour of the country that between now and September 2011 will visit Aberdeen, Shetland and finally Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, where the chessmen were discovered buried in a sand dune in 1831 then later split up and sold (read the full remarkable story of the Lewis Chessmen here).

Currently, the British Museum holds 82 pieces of the full collection of 93 which is believed to derive from at least four different sets, probably hand-crafted in Trondheim while the NMS holds the remaining 11.

Throughout the course of the exhibition in Edinburgh, the NMS has a programme of special events planned, allowing visitors to familiarise themselves with the history and saga of the enchanting gaming pieces, which represent probably the most famous archaeological discovery ever made in Scotland. They include workshops for kids, a medieval games weekend and an interdisciplinary seminar highlighting recent research into the origins, history and making of these iconic little figures.

Chess Piece Magician Workshops and Medieval Games Weekend

Sunday May 30 sees two free Lewis Chessmen-themed events for youngsters at the museum, both based around the book The Chess Piece Magician by author Douglas Bruton a fantasy adventure about a boy, Corrie, who finds a stray Chessman with magical properties while on holiday on Lewis, and gets drawn into a mystical battle between good and evil.

In the morning therell be a Chess Piece Magician Creative Workshop, where participants can meet the author and join in with creating their very own island adventure. In the afternoon therell be a drop-in session with Bruton, titled Meet the Author: The Chess Piece Magician, where fans of the book can bring their copy along to get signed.

Saturday June 12-Sunday June 13 is Medieval Games Weekend at NMS, where budding chess champions will be invited to face-off against one another across a checkered board, or simply sit back and watch some chess masters at work. More adventurous gamers can try their hand at Hnefatafl a chess-like ancient Viking game, popular in Scandinavia in the medieval period, which similarly involved protecting a king from marauding opponent pieces. Experts have speculated that the Lewis Chessmen may even be Hnefatafl pieces rather chessmen. Decide for yourself while pitting your wits against other competitors in the centuries-old contest of skill and maneuver.

Unmasking the Lewis Chessmen

The main event of the Lewis Chessmen events series at the National Museum of Scotland is Unmasking the Lewis Chessmen a day long colloquium on the 11th September that will gather and discuss ideas and opinions on the artefacts from a variety of perspectives: historical, anthropological, archaeological, artistic and cultural.

Itll begin with a talk by the NMSs Keeper of Scotland and Europe David H. Caldwell, titled The Lewis Chessmen their place in the Kingdom of the Isles. Dr Heather Pulliam, a lecturer in the History of Art department at the University of Edinburgh will then talk The Lewis Chessmen: Art and Avatar, before Dr Caroline Wilkinson, Senior Lecturer in Facial Anthropology at the University of Dundee, presents her Facial Analysis of the Chess Pieces the use of forensic science techniques for archaeological investigation.

The Norwegian Empire, Fantasy or Fact? by the University of St Andrews School of Historys Alex Woolf is the penultimate afternoon session. Mark A Hall, History Officer at Perth Museum & Art Gallery will conclude with To you he left his brown ivory chessmen, Ships, play and cultural value in the Lewis gaming hoard, before the floor is opened to questions and discussion.

Considering that there have been vehement calls in recent years from Scottish Nationalist politicians for the British Museums quota of the Lewis Chessmen to be repatriated permanently with one minister describing the loan agreement as a step sideways in the debate the conversation should be lively.