January 6, 2008

Demands for the return of the Lewis Chessmen

Posted at 1:44 pm in Similar cases

Debate of the rights & wrongs of calls to return the Lewis Chessmen to Scotland continue.

The Observer

Salmond gambit for return of chessmen
First Minister supports Celtic League’s call for the restitution of treasures
Paul Kelbie
Sunday January 6, 2008
The Observer

A call by First Minister Alex Salmond for the return of ancient Scottish treasures from the British Museum has fuelled demands from five other Celtic nations for an end to ‘colonial racism’ and the return of historically important artefacts.

Among the items held in some of the UK’s most respected academic collections are the ancient Lewis Chessmen found on a beach near Uig on the Isle of Lewis in the early 19th century. Historians believe they were probably made in Norway about 1,000 years ago and brought to the Western Isles by Vikings.

The original find comprised 93 chessmen, but only 11 are currently held in Scotland, exhibited at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh. The remainder are held by the British Museum in London. Salmond has said he intends to start campaigning for the return of the chessmen in the next few weeks. ‘I find it utterly unacceptable that the Lewis Chessmen are scattered around Britain,’ he said.

Now, encouraged by the First Minister’s announcement, the Celtic League – an independent pressure group that champions the cultural rights of the indigenous people of Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Brittany, the Isle of Man and Cornwall – has renewed calls for the return of a number of other Celtic exhibits to their ‘rightful’ homes.

The league would also like to see the return to Wales of the Gold Cape of Mold, a priceless Bronze Age 23-carat religious garment discovered in North Wales in 1833 and currently housed by the British Museum, and the Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles, a 13th-century manuscript regarded as the first known recorded history of the island and now held by the British Library.

There has been a sustained call in the Isle of Man for the return of the chronicles and a resolution was recently passed in the Tynwald supporting the call for their return.

‘These are artefacts in British institutions which have been removed from all the Celtic countries which we want back,’ said Bernard Moffatt, director of information for the Celtic League.

It has been suggested that, when returned, the complete chessmen set should be exhibited in both Edinburgh and the Outer Hebrides, providing an important boost for cultural tourism in the islands.

‘The Scottish Government’s initiative over the chessmen issue is welcomed by the Celtic League,’ said Moffatt. ‘The league have believed for many years that historical artefacts should be returned to their home countries.

‘Salmond’s move in respect of the Lewis Chessmen may put some backbone into administrations in Wales and the Isle of Man to pursue similar initiatives.’

The league, which has more than 1,000 members in branches in each of the six Celtic countries campaigning on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters, has been continually thwarted in its attempts to get the artefacts returned until now.

The previous Labour-led Scottish Executive said it had no policy of seeking inward restitution of Scottish materials, and without the Executive’s support the league was unable to bring enough pressure on the UK government.

‘We believe that these artefacts should be restored to their national territory because they are of more relevance in their own countries,’ said Moffatt. ‘The British Museum and British Library has a very narrow perspective on what should happen to these artefacts.’

However, a spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said that the British Museum is forbidden by law from disposing of any items it holds in its collection.

‘It’s astonishing that this old argument is still trotted out,’ said Moffatt. ‘We are talking about countries within the United Kingdom. It is hardly setting any major international precedent of returning artifacts just by moving them within the political sway of the UK.’

The Scotsman

Published Date: 31 December 2007
Source: The Scotsman
Location: Scotland
Could this be next move in saga of Lewis Chessmen?

As a history graduate, I was interested to read Robert McNeil’s column (28 December) criticising the British Museum for keeping the Lewis Chessmen. What concerns me is that he does not ask the same questions of the excellent National Museum of Scotland and the associated Royal Museum of Scotland.
Because the people of Scotland have come from all the four corners of the world, had a leading role in discovering new nations and, ultimately, by emigration, helped make new continents, a visit to the corridors of the museum will result in seeing Egyptian, Oriental and other international artefacts, so much so that a full day tour would be similar to a mini world cruise.

The picture is similar in many other museums throughout Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I would be interested to hear the views of readers of The Scotsman as to how this might be resolved without reducing the interest in tourism these collections can generate.

KEVIN HUTCHENS, Woodview Court, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire

The case of the Lewis Chessmen is interesting – is it “righting an old wrong” or is it another front in the Edinburgh- versus-London wars increasingly prevalent thanks to our minority administration in Edinburgh? Sadly, I suspect it is the latter.

WILLIAM BALLANTINE, Dean Road, Bo’ness, West Lothian

Last Updated: 30 December 2007 8:42 PM

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