Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Thursday, 1 October 2009 15:41 UK

Lewis Chessmen will tour Scotland

Lewis Chessmen
The pieces were made from walrus ivory and whales' teeth

Some of the Lewis Chessmen which were found on a beach in the Western Isles more than 150 years ago are being reunited for a tour of Scotland.

A total of 30 of the 93 pieces will go on display at locations including the island of Lewis, where they were found.

They are thought to have belonged to a 12th Century merchant who visited Lewis as he journeyed from Ireland to Norway.

The exhibition will open at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh in May next year.

The Chessman will also be on display in Stornoway, Shetland and Aberdeen. The official announcement was made by Culture Minister Mike Russell.

He said: "The Lewis Chessmen are a significant part of our culture and this major touring exhibition will give people across the country an opportunity to see some of the most significant archaeological artefacts ever discovered in Scotland."

He continued: "The Chessmen reflect the strong cultural and political links between Scotland and Scandinavia in the Middle Ages and the growing popularity of the game of chess in Europe.

I am pleased to announce this major touring exhibition, which will cast new light on the fascinating story of the chessmen and enhance their place in the public imagination
Gordon Rintoul
Director National Museums Scotland

"The Chessmen are an important symbol of European civilisation and have captivated the imagination of visitors and academics for many years.

"I am delighted that they will be making a return, a Homecoming, to the Isle of Lewis where they were first discovered in 1831."

The pieces were found in a small stone chamber 15ft beneath a sand dune near Uig on the west coast of Lewis at some point before 1831.

They include elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales' teeth in the forms of seated kings and queens, mitred bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks.

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

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

Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of National Museums Scotland, said: "I am pleased to announce this major touring exhibition, which will cast new light on the fascinating story of the Chessmen and enhance their place in the public imagination.

"We are delighted to be creating the exhibition in partnership with the British Museum and grateful for support from the Scottish government for this significant tour."

The Scottish government has committed £75,000 to the exhibition, in partnership with National Museums Scotland and the British Museum.

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