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Found on Lewis in 1831, the Lewis chess pieces are probably the most well-known archaeological find from Scotland.

Lewis chess piece fact file


Produced in the late 12th and early 13th century


1831 on a beach at Uig, Lewis, Scotland

Made in

Probably Trondheim, Norway

Made from

Walrus ivory



Museum reference

H.NS 19-29

On display

Kingdom of the Scots, Level 1, National Museum of Scotland

Did you know?

Up to four chess pieces could be carved from one walrus tusk

Where were the Lewis chess pieces found?

The precise findspot of these famous chess pieces seems to have been a beach at Uig in Lewis, where they may have been placed in a small, drystone chamber to keep them safe.

What did the find consist of?

The 93 gaming pieces known to us today, including 78 chess pieces and a buckle to secure a bag.

The chess pieces consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales' teeth in the form of seated kings and queens, bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks.

The hoard is likely to be made up of four chess sets. Eleven of the chess pieces are owned by National Museums Scotland and the remaining 82 reside at the British Museum.

Lewis chessmen

Where do the chess pieces come from?

Believed to be Scandinavian in origin, the chess pieces were probably made in Trondheim in Norway during the late 12th and early 13th centuries. At that time, the area in which the chess pieces were buried was part of the Kingdom of Norway, not Scotland. It is possible that the chess pieces belonged to a merchant travelling from Norway to Ireland, and it seems likely that they were buried for safe keeping en route.

Lewis chessmen

Fact or fiction?

The Lewis chess pieces have fascinated visitors and art historians alike and there are several different and colourful theories about how the hoard came to be hidden at Uig.

Photo © Mick Blunt

  • Were they stolen from a passing ship?
  • Were they hidden by a travelling merchant?
  • Could the hoard be the prized possession of a local prince, nobleman or senior churchman?
  • Were they made by different craftspeople in the same workshop?
  • Were some of the pieces for hnefatafl, a popular chess like game and others for chess?

Although many questions remain unanswered, there continues to be fascination with this remarkable group of iconic objects, 180 years after their discovery on Lewis.

Lewis chess pieces up close

To see the chess pieces in fine detail, zoom in on the image below. Use the controls in the bottom right hand corner of the image to zoom in and out, or click or scroll in and out using your mouse.

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