Would I blunder less if a single rook cost $944,000?

Imagine for a moment that the year is 1831 and you live on an island off the coast of Scotland.

Today, you've decided to take a nice stroll along the coastline.  You've walked this stretch of beach many times.  You know the scenery like the back of your hand. 

Like many times before, you walk alongside a row of large earthen mounds.  But today, one of the mounds looks different. It looks... open.

Yes, it would appear one of the mounds has a gaping hole in the side and it beckons you to come it closer.

As you approach, you notice that the mound is hollow and you peer inside. And 78 sets of eyes are staring back at you...

The eyes belong to the Lewis Chessmen, named after the island where they were found. The Chessmen compose 78 chess pieces which are dated to around the 12th century.

Most of the pieces are carved from walrus ivory. And the attention to detail on them is astounding. Some red dye was found on a few of them, suggesting that perhaps the pieces were red and white as opposed to the more traditional black and white.

The King and Queen. Public domain image.

What's interesting, historically, about medieval chess sets is that they show us how Europeans of the day converted the original Persian sets over to a feudal-based system that we are more familiar with today. The original chariots, for example, ultimately became warders (or rooks) that we Patzers carelessly blunder away with alarming regularity.

The Knight. Public domain image.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief glimpse into chess history. If you live in the UK and managed to see them during one of the exhibitions, post in the comments below!

The Queen (back view). Public domain image.

If you'd like to see more photos, check out The British Museum.