March 8, 2010

MPs criticise the removal of Scotland from the story of the Lewis Chessmen

Posted at 10:56 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

In a followup to the story a few days ago about the Lewis Chessmen, the British Museum responds to the criticism, although seems to be missing the fact that the real issue isn’t over technicalities off where the pieces were created, but of the realities of where they were discovered & how the people there see them as a part of their identity.

Press and Journal

MPs hit out at snub to Scots origin of chessmen
British museum project on Lewis artefacts ignores place of discovery
By David Perry
Published: 26/02/2010

A motion which “deplores” the way the Hebridean origin of the fabled Lewis Chessmen has been airbrushed out of a major British Museum project has been put down in the Commons.

Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil has secured the support of two SNP MPs and seven others for his motion, which complains that a poster campaign shows a picture of one of the chess pieces – found buried in sand dunes at Uig, Lewis – with the date AD 1150-1200 and the word “Norway” below it.

It “further deplores the fact that references to Lewis or the Hebrides are nowhere to be seen” and “notes that the only thing certain about the chessmen . . . is that they are made from walrus ivory or whale teeth and that they were found on the Isle of Lewis in 1831”.

MPs backing it include Dundee East’s Stewart Hosie and Moray’s Angus Robertson.

Mr MacNeil has written to the British Museum demanding changes to the posters on the London Underground highlighting the project in conjunction with the BBC to make it clear the chessmen came from Lewis.

Mr MacNeil said yesterday: “I was incensed. It is ridiculous.

“Why has the British Museum got this so spectacularly wrong?”

He has written to the museum demanding immediate amendments to the posters to make the chessmen’s Hebridean origin clear.

A British Museum spokeswoman said: “It is generally accepted that the chessmen were made in Norway. During this period, the Western Isles, where the chessmen were buried, were part of the kingdom of Norway, not Scotland.”

Mr MacNeil said: “The Hebrides may have been ruled from Norway but were not part of Norway, any more than India was part of Britain.”

A Western Islands Council spokesman said: “I don’t think anyone has established where the chessmen came from, but they were found in Uig. There is speculation they are of Scandinavian origin but there is also speculation they originated in Scotland and they certainly should be associated with Lewis.”

The chessmen will be on display in four venues in Scotland including Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway, between April 15 and September 12 next year.

The other venues are Aberdeen Art Gallery between October 7 this year and January 8 next year, and Shetland Museum and Archives from January 29 until March 27 next year.

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