Fitting Lewis pieces into the Viking jigsaw

8th June 2001 at 01:00
Investigating the Lewis Chess Pieces. CD-Rom for Mac and PC. Free to schools; extra copies pound;19.99 inc VAT. National Museums of Scotland. Contact the NMS multimedia team, tel 0131 247 4437.

Since the discovery of the Lewis chessmen 170 years ago, there has been controversy over where they belong. Should they stay in London and Edinburgh museums or return to the island on which they were found? The CD-Rom Investigating the Lewis Chess Pieces may have a solution.

As pupils start to investigate the history of the Lewis chess pieces, the story of their discovery proves to be a lot more intriguing than the simple story of their unearthing on a Lewis beach.

The CD-Rom opens with the offer of an English or Gaelic option before splitting into five distinct areas: discovery, pieces, ivory, chess, people and games. With quality photographs and images, oral history sound files and some clever animation details, it is a skilfully designed resource.

Each of the 90 chessmen can be studied individually and though the disc does not allow the user to ply chess with the pieces, it does include a fascinating insight of how the game may have been played in Viking times.

S1 pupils who have tried the disc agree that it is easy to use and make the Lewis chess pieces a great deal more interesting than just photographs in a book. They too, were fascinated by the story of how the pieces ended up in mainland museums today. This disc has been used by visitors to Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway and it is a credit to the makers of the CD-Rom that it can be employed so well in different settings.

On a slightly negative point, there is no cut and paste option, which would have been useful, though it is easy to print low resolution pictures of each chess piece.

With the new environmental studies guidelines, this excellent disc provides a means of extending pupils while studying the Vikings, making it a useful resource for social subjects.

Murdo Macdonald is a geography teacher at Sgoil Lionacleit, Isle of Benbecula, and a former presenter of the Radio 5 Live computer programme The Big Byte

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