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The Cover
February 16, 2011

The Lewis Chessmen

JAMA. 2011;305(7):649. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.120

The Norse seafarers of the Middle Ages, also known as the Vikings, explored Greenland and North America, plundered towns and monasteries along the coasts of Europe (JAMA cover July 7, 2010), and established trade routes throughout the western world. One of their trade routes stretched east by water from Norway to the Gulf of Finland, then overland and downriver through present-day Russia and across the Black Sea to Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. Another route led to the Hebrides Islands off the west coast of Scotland, where a collection of 93 game pieces of Norse origin was found on the Isle of Lewis in 1831. Most of the pawns were missing, but there were almost enough face pieces to make up four complete chess sets. The pieces may have been buried in the dunes by a merchant or by a person of high rank who hid the sets during a time of conflict between local rulers and their Norwegian overlords.