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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

The Walrus and Its Tusks

Ross D. E. MacPhee, Curator of Mammals, American Museum of Natural History

Posted: Monday, November 14, 2011

Although the walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) is one of the iconic mammals of the Arctic, its evolutionary story actually began in the tropics. By adapting to cold conditions, the distant ancestors of walruses were able to prosper in the harsh conditions of the northern polar regions. This took time; walruses are distantly related to fur seals and sea lions, but they have been on their own as a separate lineage for more than twenty million years. Although moderately diverse in the past, the walrus family declined over time and is now represented by just one species.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

"The Heather Isle" (Eilean an Fhraoich)

Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Monday, November 14, 2011

The Lewis Chessmen were found on an island that can be reached today only by air, or by ferry that takes more than two hours to cross from the Scottish mainland. Much beloved by hikers, the island has a landscape and climate that are daunting. Storm winds over the island can be so strong in the winter that they blow small fish up to the very top of the cliffs at Barra Head, which rise 620 feet above the water. In December, Lewis enjoys less than an hour of sunlight a day.

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About this Blog

This blog accompanied the special exhibition The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis, on view at The Cloisters November 15, 2011–April 22, 2012.