Discover Ancient Games at the National Museum

edinburgh-1541103_640 (2)

Image source:

Entertainment in Older Times: Discover Ancient Games and More at the National Museum of Scotland

Edinburgh is a vibrant and exciting city with a lot of great bars and pubs to hang out with friends and have fun – but besides its legendary nightlife, it is also a city of culture and prides itself in being one of the most renowned academic centres of Britain and the world. One of the most prominent culture meeting points in the city is the National Museum of Scotland, which was formed in 2006 thanks to the union of the Royal Museum with the Museum of Scotland, situated right next to it.

After a £47 million renovation a few years ago, today the according to Visit Scotland the museum is among the top 10 most popular visitor attractions in the UK and in the Top 20 of the world’s most widely visited museums, with a collection of over 20,000 pieces. In a tribute to Edinburgh’s status as the nightlife capital of Scotland, we review seven amazing artefacts on display that show us how past generations defined “fun”!

  1. The Lewis Chessmen

Chess has long been celebrated as one of the most popular – and ancient games – ever invented. Certainly one of the museum’s most iconic artefacts, the Lewis chessmen are among the most popular exhibits on display. They were found at Uig, Lewis in 1831 and date back to the late 12th or early 13th century. The 93 pieces that survive today are sophisticated works of art, carved from walrus ivory with the addition of whale teeth, in order to form seated kings, mounted knights and obelisk-shaped pawns, among others. The batch is probably part of a larger set to accommodate four chessboards, 11 of the pieces are housed in the National Museum of Scotland and the other 83 are on display in London, in the collection of the British Museum. These pieces are so popular that they featured on the 2001 Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – when Harry and Ron are seen playing wizard chess with Lewis chessmen!

  1. Bute Mazer

The Bute Mazer, also known by the name of Bannatyne Mazer, is one of the most interesting pieces on display at the Museum. It is the earliest Scottish mazer bowl discovered so far and dates back to the 14th century. People of the 14th century certainly knew how to throw a party, they regularly used elaborately adorned mazer bowls like this one as communal drinking vessels – sharing the booze and sharing the fun! The Bute Mazer features a silver lion gilded with gold at the centre of the bottom of the cup (perhaps staring in a judgmental fashion at the drinker), surrounded by noble coats of arms, including the coats of arms of the High Steward of Scotland between the lion’s front paws.

  1. Needlework samples

Knitting and sewing are quintessential British pastimes and have been for a while – and this exhibit is definitive proof. Among the many items related to fashion on display at the museum, there is an album containing needlework samples by one Libbie Mackintosh, dating back to 1870. Tucked away with the help of a bit of red cross-stitching in a neat notebook with a soft cover, these samples remind us of the ongoing fascination of the art of needlepoint.



  1. Cruise vacations and sailing

Everyone who has been on a cruise will agree: being at the sea is one of the most relaxing vacations one could ever take. Sailing has also been a widely used method of commuting as well as a hobby for centuries now. Among the many advertising items on display at the Museum is an 1840 advertisement poster for Sailing Steamer with the romantic name “Pegasus” – which is a tribute to Ancient Greek mythology -detailing its trip times between Hull, Leith and London.

  1. Playing Cards from Edinburgh

Card games are among humankind’s favourite pastimes, from hearts and solitaire all the way to poker and blackjack. Although no one knows exactly when people came up with modern favourites like blackjack, according to Betway Casino we do know that a version of blackjack called twenty-one was certainly played in France in the early 18th century. As items, playing cards are believed to predate most of the games we know today. Modern decks of cards come in all shapes and sizes, some of them specially designed to assist in learning difficult games like bridge, but few of them can boast to surpass in beauty and skill the deck of cards engraved by an Edinburgh goldsmith Walter Scott that is on display in the Museum. The 53 cards date back to 1691 and are decorated with the royal arms and Scottish noblemen’s arms; the King of Hearts bears the arms of Scotland and the other three Kings depict the arms of England, Ireland and France.

  1. Caich

Ball games are among the most fun things you can play with friends and sports like football and basketball are tremendously popular today. But have you ever wondered how it all began? It was with games like caich – competitive, fun sports played between teams of an equal number of participants, or even between two people. One of the simplest games, caich was a predecessor of fives along with other ball games, and usually played with leather balls filled with straw. Some of them, dating from 1600 to 1800, are on display at the Museum. Probably what you’d have been playing if you were born back then.

  1. Golf

Golf is the ultimate Scottish sport for many people. It originated here and there are few places more ideal to play than the idyllic Scottish countryside. Makes perfect sense then that among the most important artefacts on the Museum’s collection are wooden golf clubs dating back to the 18th century. Fun fact: according to the oldest written reference to golf can be found in a 1457 law prohibiting the sport due to it serving as a distraction from military practice.



Besides these amazing exhibits, the Museum is home to thousands more. So next time you find yourself with some extra time on your hands during a weekend, why not get together with friends and go for a visit to the great National Museum of Scotland?


Blog ,

Your Comments

About Edinburgh247

If you are a local business owner you can claim your free listing..

Please submit your ratings, comments and reviews to make this web site more useful for everyone.

**We have free cinema tickets to give away to anyone who submits a 250+ word review. Simply contact us after you post to claim your tickets :-)

Find Us On Social Media