Join award-winning author and former ASF Fellow Nancy Marie Brown as she discusses her new book (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) that delves deeper into the provenance of the Lewis chessmen – one of the most important Viking treasures ever found.

In the 1830s on a remote Hebridean beach on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, 92 chessmen carved from walrus ivory were uncovered. Their unearthing is Scotland’s best-known archaeological find. Among the most viewed and beloved objects at the British Museum in London and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, these mysterious figurines have inspired numerous songs, fantasies, thrillers, and films.

Yet so little about them is known: Where did the ivory come from? Were the chessmen meant for the king of Norway? Who carved them, and when? Were they made in Trondheim between 1150 and 1200, as art historians have long presumed?

Or in Lund, where a bit of ivory looking like the front feet of a Lewis knight’s horse was found in an archaeological dig? Or, as a new theory proposes, were these masterpieces of Romanesque art carved from Greenlandic walrus ivory for Bishop Pall of Iceland? And how did they end up in far-western Scotland?

Drawing from medieval Icelandic sagas, modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games, Ivory Vikings links the Lewis chessmen to the Vikings’ luxury trade in walrus ivory and to a Norwegian king’s fondness for wearing kilts. It presents a vivid history of the 400 years when Norsemen ruled the North Atlantic and the sea road connected places thought of as culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, Greenland and North America. Finally, Ivory Vikings brings from the shadows Margret the Adroit of Iceland, the talented 12th-century artist who carved the Lewis chessmen – maybe.

Following the discussion, copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing

About the author

Nancy Marie Brown writes about Iceland and Vikings, science and sagas. Her books combine extremes: medieval literature and modern archaeology, myths and facts. They ask: What have we overlooked? What have we forgotten? Whose history must not be lost?

She is the author of six general interest books and one young adult novel, including Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012), winner of the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Myth and Fantasy Studies; The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages (Hartcourt Books, 2010);


The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman (Mariner Books, 2007) and its companion novel, The Saga of Gudrid the Far-Traveler (2015); Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Foods (with Nina V. Fedoroff, Joseph Henry Press, 2004); and A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse (Stackpole Books, 2001).

She holds a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Penn State University, where she specialized in Old Icelandic and Old French, and enjoyed a 20-year career as a science writer and editor for Penn State’s Research Publications before turning freelance in 2003.



Photo by the American-Scandinavian Foundation

MON – 10-21-2015 – 6:30 PM
RSVP strongly encouraged