Page last updated at 21:57 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

Historic chessmen tour the north

Lewis Chessmen
Most of the 93 pieces found are held in London

More than 20 pieces from the 82 Lewis Chessmen kept in a London museum are to return to Scotland temporarily on a tour to Edinburgh and Stornoway.

Most of the figures - believed to be between 800 and 900 years old - were discovered on a beach near Stornoway on Lewis in 1831.

Of the 93 found, 82 are kept at the British Museum, with 11 held by the National Museum of Scotland.

The tour follows talks between museum bosses in Edinburgh and London.

Last year, the then Scottish culture minister visited the British Museum in an attempt to have the chessmen returned to Scotland.

Linda Fabiani asked the museum's deputy director to consider their return. She had earlier told the Scottish Parliament it was "unacceptable" that most were held in London.

The British Museum said the figures probably originated from Norway and had frequently been loaned to museums in Scotland.

Sand bank

It is believed the pieces were made between about 1150-1200 AD when the Western Isles - where the figures were buried - were part of the Kingdom of Norway, not Scotland.

The figures of seated kings and queens, with bishops wearing mitres on their heads and knights mounted on horses, include two complete sets and pieces from two or three others.

They were discovered by a shepherd in a small stone chamber 15ft beneath a sand bank on a beach near Uig.

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