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(EDIT: Image removed due to broken link. For substitute images, see the post directly above this one.)

Several of the Isle of Lewis Chessmen.

In 1831 a group of small figurines, ninety-three in all and mostly carved from walrus tusks, was unearthed on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides islands (off the northwestern coast of Scotland). The figurines were later identified as chesspieces. The chessmen are believed to have originated in Norway. They are the oldest chessmen in existence. Replica sets are widely available; I am fortunate enough to own one. (Due to the presence in my home of a three-year-old child and also three cats, this prized possession of mine is still in its box.)

I’ve always found something fascinatingly primal about the design of the Lewis Chessmen. Even though they don’t date back nearly that far, it is easy to imagine them being moved around a board in a Celtic chieftain’s meadhall — in the pages of Beowulf, perhaps, or maybe the halls of Bran the Blessed in The Mabinogion.

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