The Lewis Chessmen

stu neville

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#1
This is as much an ethical point as a newsworthy one.

The BBC says:
Moves to unite historic chessmen

First Minister Alex Salmond has joined calls for the return of the Lewis chessmen to Scotland. SNP members have been campaigning to bring the famed 13th Century figurines back to the country where they were discovered.

The beautifully carved game pieces were found on a beach near Uig on the isle of Lewis in about 1831. Many of the original 93 chess pieces are currently on show at the British Museum in London. Speaking to BBC Scotland, Annie MacDonald, an SNP councillor on Lewis, said it was time that the pieces were returned.

She said: "We would like them back up here because I believe that today we can actually hold them up here in the Western Isles.

"We had an exhibition just a month ago where we had 17th Century artefacts and it went down very well for three months.

"I'm pretty sure we could easily hold the chess pieces here as well."

Mr Salmond reportedly said he found it unacceptable that the pieces were scattered around the UK.

He said he would continue to campaign for their return to Scotland.
Now, in light of the wider ethical point this raises, I've started a dedicated thread here.

Given the logical conclusion in this case, then surely the wider ethical point would include the eventual, potential repatriation to Scandinavia...
 

Scunnerlugzz

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#2
King Alex never actually made any such demand, he simply lent his support to an Gaelic communities group who are trying to fight for the restoration of their culture on many fronts.

Stu I suspect that you are a reader of the Northbritainsman newspaper, formerly a decent broadsheet, now just another redtop with an incredibley anti Salmond agenda.
 

Scunnerlugzz

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#3
Oops, always remember to original post to the end before replying.

Repatriation to Scandanavia? On what grounds?
 

stu neville

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#4
Scunnerlugzz said:
King Alex never actually made any such demand, he simply lent his support to an Gaelic communities group who are trying to fight for the restoration of their culture on many fronts.
Quite right - thread title edited to reflect this.
Stu I suspect that you are a reader of the Northbritainsman newspaper, formerly a decent broadsheet, now just another redtop with an incredibley anti Salmond agenda.
No, merely a listener to Radio 4, which is possibly worse ;). Scots news is hard to come by this end of England.
Scunnerlugzz said:
Repatriation to Scandanavia? On what grounds?
On the basis that they are believed to have been Viking artefacts. Just talking of logical extremes (TBH, I think they belong in Lewis too, now.)
 

Scunnerlugzz

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#5
They very well may be Viking artifacts. Vikings were settled on Lewis at the time. Many are still there (shock horror).
 

Yithian

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#6
Several - a representative selection - are in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Several others are in the British museum in London. I see no problem with this. They are shared among Scotland and the hub of Britain so many get to appreciate them.

If we returned them to Lewis, only a fraction of the current number would ever be able to see them. And they are splendid.
 
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#7
theyithian said:
...

If we returned them to Lewis, only a fraction of the current number would ever be able to see them. And they are splendid.
I'm sure the London tourist trade would be just as happy with a set of facsimiles.

Perhaps, they could even have a couple of Disney style, animatronic, vikings, sitting playing a game of chess with them.

:)
 

Kondoru

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#8
No, I think thats too lowbrow for the BM

If they were on Lewis hardly anyone would see them, honest, theres no reason to visit the outer hebridies unless you want to see Calinash (which is neither in Edinbugh or London)
 
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#9
Kondoru said:
No, I think thats too lowbrow for the BM

If they were on Lewis hardly anyone would see them, honest, theres no reason to visit the outer hebridies unless you want to see Calinash (which is neither in Edinbugh or London)
Very good, you're quite right, Callanish is not in London, or Edinburgh. In fact, 99.9% of Britain is not in London, or Edinburgh. Although, many of the inhabitants of both London and Edinburgh, often seem to forget this fact.

The British Museum, that emporium originally dedicated to dilettante collections of 18th century 'wonder cabinets' and all the spoils of Empire, might be improved with a few animatronic exhibits. :)
 

rynner2

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#10
Pietro_Mercurios said:
In fact, 99.9% of Britain is not in London, or Edinburgh.
Depending on how you define the city boundaries, I think the true figure is much less than that.

London is that big blob within the M25, and Edinburgh is another big blob in Scotland (which threatens to grow into the blob that is Glasgow).

I'm talking geographically of course, but if you're talking in terms of population, the figure would be even lower - most of us now live in towns or cities.

As for museum artifacts attracting tourists:

A. I don't think so - I can think of many reasons to visit the Hebrides, but viewing a set of stone chessmen would not be high on the list!

B. In view of the dangers of global warming, do we really want to encourage too many people to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to see stuff that is more efficiently displayed in a big city?

:twisted:
 
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#11
rynner said:
...

As for museum artifacts attracting tourists:

A. I don't think so - I can think of many reasons to visit the Hebrides, but viewing a set of stone chessmen would not be high on the list!

...
Then you'd miss a treat.
rynner said:
...

B. In view of the dangers of global warming, do we really want to encourage too many people to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to see stuff that is more efficiently displayed in a big city?

:twisted:
Still better than flying South to catch a tan and the risk of skin cancer. I'd make them walk, anyway.

What some call 'efficient,' others might describe as a drain on the Nation's resources. Big cities are the big, shitty, size 12, carbon footprints of Britain, not underpopulated, resources starved, semi-wild places like Lewis.
 

Cavynaut

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#12
Not trying to divert this thread, but does anyone have a picture of the McMilosevic tartan?
 
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#13
Pietro_Mercurios said:
Very good, you're quite right, Callanish is not in London, or Edinburgh. In fact, 99.9% of Britain is not in London, or Edinburgh. Although, many of the inhabitants of both London and Edinburgh, often seem to forget this fact.
True, true. But as someone born and brought up in the middle of feckin' nowhere I have to say that I am neither beside myself with surprise nor particularly furious that there isn't a national museum, a couple of major rail terminals and the Tate Modern within a couple of minutes stroll. What we could really do with is more bloody buses - although of course that would increase our carbon footprint.

Bugger Norway. I think the chessmen - which were purchased, not pilfered by gun-toting antiquarians or made away with under the cover of night by ruthless, hooded archaeologists, despite the likes of Mr Salmonds tiresome insisitence on portraying every single transaction ever undergone between N and S as being between some naive and virginal innocent and her wicked swan-beating, kitten-strangling uncle (is it true he wants to appoint Mel Gibson Minister of Information?)....etc....ahem, sorry, erm....what was I on about? Oh...yes.

Anyway. Bugger Norway. I think the chessmen should be given back to the bloody walruses - I expect they were pretty pissed off with the whole transaction in the first place!!
 

Peripart

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#14
I'm surprised that Salmond has ignored an even greater, and older, injustice, and demanded that the Elgin Marbles be sent back home forthwith. To Elgin.
 

rynner2

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#15
Now the pols are duking it out!

Hodge attacks Salmond's Chessmen gambit

UK CULTURE minister Margaret Hodge has dismissed Alex Salmond's demand for the Lewis Chessmen to be returned to Scotland as "nonsense".
Writing in today's Scotland on Sunday, she accuses the First Minister of "creating conflict, not culture" with his call for the artefacts, found on a beach in Lewis in the 19th century, to be "seized" from their home in the British Museum in London.

And she suggests that the chessmen do no necessarily belong in Scotland anyway, pointing out that they were made in Norway and buried in Lewis at time when the Western Isles belonged to Norway, and were on their way to Ireland.

Hodge's intervention came as Scottish Culture Minister Linda Fabiani yesterday travelled to London to view the chessmen and met museum officials to discuss the artefacts' "repatriation".

Fabiani rejected Hodge's comments, saying: "This type of uninformed and dismissive attitude is not helpful.

"The reality is that under the current Treasure Trove system, the Lewis Chessmen would have stayed in Scotland and been displayed in Scotland's museums."

In spite of the UK Government's refusal to budge on the issue, Fabiani said she would continue to press the case for the return of the chessmen, which date back to the 13th century.

"I viewed the Lewis Chessmen at the British Museum – the set is a wonderful treasure which was found on the Isle of Lewis around 1831.

"The Scottish Government believes that it is unacceptable that only 11 Lewis Chessmen rest at the National Museum of Scotland, while the other 82 remain in the British Museum, and I shared this view with the British Museum."

Hodge suggests that Salmond has ignored the role of modern museums in sharing their collections with as wide an audience as possible in order to make a political point.

She writes: "It's not hard to imagine someone overseas wanting the glorious mummies and antiquities in the National Museum in Edinburgh sent back to Egypt, or the Burrell's Impressionist paintings repatriated to France.

"And maybe we could redress the balance still further. How about slapping in a claim for the pink granite of the Albert Memorial in London to be stripped out and 'sent home' to Mull? It's a lot of nonsense, isn't it?"

http://news.scotsman.com/latestnews/Hod ... 3715419.jp
 

rynner2

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#16
A flight of fancy....

A dirty British coaster (with a salt-caked smokestack ;) ) chugs up the Sound of Mull. Turning to port, she enters Tobermoray harbour and berths alongside. Using her derricks, the crew start unloading blocks of pink granite onto the quay.

A local staggers out of the Mishnish Hotel, and watches in amazement.
"Hey, ye canna leave that there - that's where the ferry berths!"
"Not my problem, mate," says the coaster's skipper. "I was told to deliver this here. Been ripped aht the 'Albert 'All, this has, and now it's bin repatriated. It's all yours now!"

Local goes back into the Mishnish for a stiff drink...

:D
 
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#17
rynner said:
A flight of fancy....

A dirty British coaster (with a salt-caked smokestack ;) ) chugs up the Sound of Mull. Turning to port, she enters Tobermoray harbour and berths alongside. Using her derricks, the crew start unloading blocks of pink granite onto the quay.

...
"Now, isn't that jist sublime?" :)

rynner said:
...

And she suggests that the chessmen do no necessarily belong in Scotland anyway, pointing out that they were made in Norway and buried in Lewis at time when the Western Isles belonged to Norway, and were on their way to Ireland.

...

http://news.scotsman.com/latestnews/Hod ... 3715419.jp
Notice how the product of wild surmise and prejudice becomes a statement of fact in this idiot's statement.

Lewis was a thriving Scandanavian outpost at the time of the chessmen's alleged creation. Not only was there was a healthy trade in luxury goods between there and Scandanavia, but Lewis controlled the North Western sea routes around the British Isles.

According to contemporary accounts (the only thing we've got to go on, as regards the discovery of the chessmen), the chessmen were not just buried, but discovered in a stone chamber.
http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland/Whose-king-40rook-pawn-.3644958.jp

Whose king (rook, pawn, knight etc) is it anyway?
The Scotsman. By TIM CORNWELL. 7th January 2008

...

The details of the chessmen's discovery in 1831 remain murky to this day. The hoard was found in the sand dunes of the west coast of Lewis, perhaps sheltered in a stone chamber. They seem to have ended up in London by chance rather than any grand design.

They were found by Malcolm MacLeod, of Penny Donald, Uig, who took advice from a Stornoway merchant on how to sell them. An Edinburgh dealer, TA Forrest, bought them for £30 and the Scottish Society of Antiquaries tried and failed to buy them. Forrest sold 82 pieces to the British Museum, with the help of an assistant keeper fascinated by board games, for 80 guineas. Ten other pieces collected by Lord Londesborough were bought for the National Museum of Scotland in 1888, with another added later.

The chessmen were made about 900 years ago, of walrus ivory and whales' teeth. They offer vital historical evidence of the strong trading, diplomatic or military links, at a time when Lewis and Skye were at the cross-roads of a world reaching from the west coast of Norway and Denmark around Scotland to Ireland.

...
If ever there was an area of the British Isles that could do with the extra trade that the return of such artefacts might provide, it's Lewis. As the population of the Outer Hebrides continues to haemorrhage, why should London, that gigantic economic and cultural sucking pit, continue to drain the resources of the rest of the country?
 

rynner2

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#18
Lewis Chessmen go north — but they’re just visiting
Of the 93 pieces, 82 are on permanent display at the British Museum in London, while only 11 are housed at the National Museum of Scotland
Tom Maxwell

The Lewis Chessmen are being brought north for an important tour of Scotland after the SNP government said it would contribute £75,000 towards the costs of a new exhibition to be staged by the British Museum in London and the National Museum of Scotland.

Nationalist ministers remain committed to the long-term goal of bringing the 12th-century figures to Scotland on a permanent basis, and hope the exhibition will further that aim.

While welcoming the fact that 24 of the pieces would enjoy a “homecoming” to the Isle of Lewis alongside six pieces from the museum in Edinburgh, Mike Russell, Scotland’s Culture Minister insisted: “We haven’t moved in our position, but of course the overall purpose is to give people in Scotland better access to these items. We’ve able to negotiate that, at least on a temporary basis.

“I think this tour has arisen from the British Museum recognising that we want better access.”

Described by museum keepers as “priceless and unique”, the chess pieces, believed to be Norwegian in origin, were discovered on a sand dune on the Isle of Lewis in 1831. Of the 93 pieces, 82 are on permanent display at the British Museum in London, while only 11 are housed at the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh.

For the past two years, the figures, which are intricately carved from walrus ivory and whales’ teeth, have been at the centre of a political row, with the SNP seeking the repatriation of various historical artefacts.

During the announcement of the tour in Edinburgh yesterday, however, it emerged that the museums in the two capital cities had already been discussing the possibility of a small exhibition of Chessmen in Stornoway.

The Scottish government’s financial contribution will allow a far greater number of people to view the Chessmen, with 30 pieces set to go on display in the National Museum of Scotland, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Shetland Museum from next May.

The tour will finish with a five-month exhibition at Museum nan Eilean, in Stornoway, in May 2012.

Mr Russell added: “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.”

The British Museum has been home to the chess pieces since shortly after they were discovered, when the Scottish Antiquaries Society in Edinburgh was unable to raise enough money to keep them in Scotland.

Mr Russell yesterday said the Scottish government would have to “agree to disagree” with the British Museum over where the Chessmen rightfully belong.“What we have here is a useful step. I think it’s a step sideways rather than a step forward but we’re grateful to the National Museum of Scotland and to the British Museum for bringing the exhibition about. However, it is clearly not a permanent solution.”

Bonnie Greer, deputy chair of the board of trustees at the British Musuem, said there was no question of the Chessmen moving back to Scotland. “We are a museum of the world, for the world,” she said. “We see the Lewis Chessmen as part of that idea. They are a grand, beautiful example of the human story so, for us, they have pride of place. They are the highlight of the medieval gallery and they are much loved.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/u ... 857541.ece
 
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#19
I can't help wondering if the initial volume of this debate wasn't tempered somewhat by those who administer Scotland's own museums -

Politicos - ...repatriation now...
Museums - Erm, be quiet.
Politicos - ...don't belong...
Museums - Please be quiet...please.
Politicos - ...plundered...
Museums - SHUT...UP!
Politicos - ...exhibits returned to original home...
Museums - WILL YOU PLEASE...SHUT...THE...F##K...UP!

Many galleries and museums hold exhibits whose provenance is a little iffy. And some transactions which seem perfectly fair in theory, look a lot less so when examined more closely - especially when we overlay modern moral thinking on that of the past.

I expect that even some of those who would dearly like to see the Chessmen back in Scotland were squirming in their seats once the politicians piled into the discussion.
 

Mythopoeika

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#20
Alex Salmond's behaviour and attitude gives the impression that the majority of Scots bear a deep burning hatred of England.
If this is true, I am a little puzzled. All the bad stuff between England and Scotland happened a loooong time ago.

I think Salmond will ultimately be the ruin of Scotland.
 
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#21
Of course, the real question is:
'Why are the chessmen in London, England and not in Scotland, in the first place?'

Answering that one might solve all sorts of related questions. ;)



 

GNC

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#22
The location of the Lewis Chessmen have not affected my life in Scotland one jot. As long as they're being looked after, what's the problem? Are there no Scots working in the British Museum? It's not as if the English are playing skittles with them, is it?
 
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#23
gncxx said:
The location of the Lewis Chessmen have not affected my life in Scotland one jot. As long as they're being looked after, what's the problem? Are there no Scots working in the British Museum? It's not as if the English are playing skittles with them, is it?
If someone nicked my new 100" flat screen TV and had it away with them, then sold it to someone down the pub, I wouldn't feel much better with the knowledge that the new owner was looking after it, back at their gaff.
 

GNC

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#24
Pietro_Mercurios said:
gncxx said:
The location of the Lewis Chessmen have not affected my life in Scotland one jot. As long as they're being looked after, what's the problem? Are there no Scots working in the British Museum? It's not as if the English are playing skittles with them, is it?
If someone nicked my new 100" flat screen TV and had it away with them, then sold it to someone down the pub, I wouldn't feel much better with the knowledge that the new owner was looking after it, back at their gaff.
How about if they let you watch it any time you wanted? It's the British Museum, not the English Museum, and Scotland is part of Britain.
 
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#25
gncxx said:
Pietro_Mercurios said:
gncxx said:
The location of the Lewis Chessmen have not affected my life in Scotland one jot. As long as they're being looked after, what's the problem? Are there no Scots working in the British Museum? It's not as if the English are playing skittles with them, is it?
If someone nicked my new 100" flat screen TV and had it away with them, then sold it to someone down the pub, I wouldn't feel much better with the knowledge that the new owner was looking after it, back at their gaff.
How about if they let you watch it any time you wanted? It's the British Museum, not the English Museum, and Scotland is part of Britain.
I would still be miffed, even if they paid my return bus fare.
 

GNC

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#26
I don't think new TVs are equivalent to museum pieces anyway! When's the last time anyone played chess with the Lewis Chessmen?
 
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#27
gncxx said:
I don't think new TVs are equivalent to museum pieces anyway! When's the last time anyone played chess with the Lewis Chessmen?
Who knows what burglars get up to when no one´s looking? It's bad enough when they take a crap on the living room carpet.
 
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#28
IIRC the simple answer as to why some of the Chessmen are in London is that they were bought, and bought at a time when, however we might view that transaction now, such a purchase wouldn't have been frowned upon.

Questioning the legitimacy of a financial transaction well over a century old by viewing it in comparison to present practice would open a huge can of worms - and that's the main reason I believe certain politicians, after a predictably bellicose start, shut up rather rapidly.
 
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#29
I've been trying to find the original of an interesting quote I've seen referred to several times regarding this story -
The local historical society in Uig, "Comann Eachdraidh Uig", which operates a registered museum near the find site featuring detailed information about the chessmen and Norse occupation in Lewis, has indicated publicly that it has no intention of pursuing any claim to the ownership of the pieces and does not support demands for them to be sent to Edinburgh, but would welcome short-term loans. [Uig News, February 2008]
(quoted, for example, here)

Unfortunately all references are secondary, the original statement doesn't seem to be online - Uig News is a monthly newsletter, rather than a newspaper, and doesn't appear to have an online archive.

However, the bonus in pursuing that particular thread was finding Comann Eachdraidh Uig's website, which is fascinating and full of interesting, and occasionally Fortean, stuff. Well worth investing time in.

Given the distinct possibility that there are still a few chessmen lying around somewhere, and that there's apparently a lost cave full of swords on Mealisval, it's a wonder the area isn't crawling with treasure hunters.
 

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#30
gncxx said:
How about if they let you watch it any time you wanted? It's the British Museum, not the English Museum, and Scotland is part of Britain.
That's great to hear. With your support I am hopeful we can have the Crown Jewels, currently on permanent display in the Tower of London, as an exhibit up here in the North of Scotland. That's only fair, plus we are speaking about a British museum even if it is in Aberdeen or Inverness.

On the other hand, and casting aside my sarcasm, I suspect that my scenario would be more likely reflected in the adage, 'What's yours is mine and whats mine is my own'.
 
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