A set of medieval chess pieces dating back to the late 12th century has been revealed
by VisitScotland as one of the top 25 objects to have shaped Scotland’s history in
a stunning new e-book.
The Lewis Chessmen which feature at number nine on the date ordered list, are between
3.5cm and 10.2cm high. Most are carved from walrus tusk, but a few are made from
a whale’s tooth. They were found in 1831 in a small stone kist in a sand dune in
Uig on Lewis.
The original hoard - known as the Uig Chessmen locally - contained 93 items: 78 chess
pieces, 14 tablemen and a buckle, possibly to fasten the bag in which they might
be kept. All the pieces, apart from the pawns, are depictions of human figures, and
many have almost comically angry-looking facial expressions.
Compiled by an expert panel for the 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology,
the 25 objects cover over 5,000 years of Scottish history and the length and breadth
of the country from Shetland to Dumfries.
The objects were chosen based on chronological and geographic spread alongside their
individual interesting stories.
The final 25 were chosen by a panel that included representatives from Historic Environment
Scotland, National Museums of Scotland, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and VisitScotland.
Other items appearing in the list include a Roman distance slab, a medieval football,
Antarctic goggles, a carved footprint and a dancing fiddle.
VisitScotland hopes that visitors will go on a trail this summer to discover as many
of the objects as possible and in turn discover more about Scotland’s fascinating
The oldest object in the list is a barbed harpoon point (originally found in the
Macarthur Cave, Oban) that dates back to the Middle Stone Age, and is one of the
earliest instruments used to hunt and fish in Scotland.
The most modern in the list is Dolly the Sheep - the first mammal to be cloned from
an adult cell – who is currently housed at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh
and celebrated her 20th anniversary in 2016.
More unusual objects on the list include the Orkney Venus – the earliest known depiction
of the female human form - which dates from the Neolithic period and was uncovered
at the Links of Noltland on the Orkney island of Westray in 2009.
A violin which ignited Robert Burns’ rebellious streak, revealing more about the
great Bard’s personality is another object that makes the final cut. The Gregg Violin
was owned by Burns’ dance teacher, William Gregg.
Uig Chessmen one of ‘25 objects that shaped Scotland’s history’