Neolithic standing stone attacked by vandals sparking police appeal

Police are on the trail of vandals who attacked ancient standing stones and carved graffiti into one of them.

Shocked Historic Environment Scotland (HES) staff found the markings on a routine monitoring visit to the Machrie Moor standing stones on Arran.

HES said the stones are a scheduled monument, which means they are legally protected and damage to them, such as graffiti, is a criminal offence.

The heritage body said it would be working with Police Scotland to investigate the incident.

HES tweeted: “On a recent visit to monitor its condition, we were concerned to discover that one of the stones has been damaged by incised (i.e. carved) graffiti.

“As well as being a Property in the Care of Ministers, the standing stones are also designated as a scheduled monument.

“This means they are legally protected and damage to them, such as graffiti, is a criminal offence.”

A subsequent tweet read: “Heritage crime can cause damage that can never be repaired and forces us to spend less resources on important conservation work.”

The impressive megaliths are believed to have been used in ancient rituals and ceremonies.

The landscape includes standing stones, stone circles, cairns and other Neolithic and Bronze Age constructions, as well as hut circles and an extensive field system, which all date to between 3500 and 1500 BC.

HES urged anyone with information to contact Police Scotland or Crimestoppers.

Stone Age hunter-gatherer slate rings: The oldest currency or bands of friendship or ritual?

Around 6,000 years ago, hunter-gatherer communities in northeast Europe produced skillfully manufactured slate ring ornaments in great numbers.

While these ornaments are commonly referred to as ‘slate rings’, they were rarely used as intact rings.

Instead, the ornaments were fragmented on purpose, using pieces of rings as tokens. These fragments were further processed into pendants.

According to new research from the University of Helsinki, in Finland, the fragments were deliberately broken and most likely served as symbols of the social relations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers.

As most archaeological material is found in a fragmented state, the phenomenon has been considered a natural consequence of objects’ having been long buried underground.

However, according to Postdoctoral Researcher Marja Ahola from the University of Helsinki, not all objects have necessarily been broken by accident.

Instead, it is possible some were fragmented on purpose as part of maintaining social relations, bartering or ritual activities.

New research could demonstrate a widespread Stone Age exchange network.

With a substantial number of ornaments found in central locations of what is now Finland.

As some of the ornaments originate in the Lake Onega region and have been transported to Finland it is possible that they symbolise cordial connections established within the network.

By matching pieces of slate ring ornaments, analysing their geochemical composition and investigating traces of use and manufacture in the objects, a research group at the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku demonstrated that the ornaments had not only been worn, but also intentionally broken.

Because fragments from the same ornament were found in two different locations, it is possible that they were worn by two different individuals.

Another indication of this is the fact that one of the fragments had been worked on more finely than the other.

Marja Ahola said: “These fragments of the same object may show the handprint and preferences of two individuals.

“Perhaps they wore the ornaments as a symbol of a connection established.”

A similar link was found in slate ring ornaments created during the same manufacturing process, one of which was found in a settlement-site context and the other in a burial site investigated near the settlement.

Ahold added: “What we see here may be one way of maintaining connection between the living and the dead.

“This is also the first clear material connection between a certain place of residence and a burial site.

“In other words, the people who lived there most likely buried their dead in a site close to them.”

An X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) of a little over 50 slate ring ornaments demonstrated that some of the ornaments or fragments thereof had been imported from the Lake Onega region, Russia, hundreds of kilometres from the site where they were found.

XRF analyses can be used to determine the element concentrations and raw materials of inorganic archaeological materials with a very high precision.

The technique can be applied as an entirely non-invasive surface analysis, which makes it perfectly suited to the study of archaeological objects.

Docent Elisabeth Holmqvist-Sipilä said: “By comparing the elemental concentrations of the objects under investigation with findings published on the basis of international datasets, we were able to demonstrate that some of the ornaments or the stone material used in them was transported to Finland through an extensive exchange network, primarily from the Lake Onega region.

“There was also variation in the chemical composition of the objects, which correlates with their design.

“These factors indicate that the ornaments were produced at Lake Onega region in several batches, most likely in different locations and by a number of makers.”

Stonehenge still threatened as new tunnel consultation launches

Stonehenge still faces an uncertain future as a fresh consultation was launched by the UK Government on its plans to build a road tunnel nearby.

The latest twist came after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps received updated information on the scheme’s carbon impact.

National Highways has submitted a report on its calculation of operational and construction-linked CO2 emissions.

The updated documents claim that the cumulative effects of greenhouse gas emissions from the scheme have decreased compared with previous estimates in 2018.

National Highways measured the impact using the current version of the National Highways Carbon Tool.

It put the decreases in construction carbon emissions down to “a change in GHG (greenhouse gas) emission factors” and it explained lower road user emissions because of “the projected uptake of electric vehicles up to 2050”.

The £1.7bn scheme would involve the construction of a new 12.8km two-lane dual carriageway, with a 3.2km tunnel, for the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down, in Wiltshire – very close to the Neolithic World Heritage Site.

The High Court quashed the Transport Secretary’s decision to allow development consent for the scheme last July.

The decision was seen as a welcome victory for campaigners from the group Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

But, unfortunately, the plans are still lingering.

The scheme, if it goes ahead, is thought likely to cause considerable harm to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, which includes the historic landscape around the iconic monument.

Following the court’s judgement that the development consent order was “unlawful”, Mr Shapps and the Government are now “redetermining” the application.

Interested parties have until 10 June to make their feelings known on the updated environmental information.

A link to this document, which includes relevant contact details, is here.

Stonehenge Mesolithic landscape BEFORE the stone circle revealed

A new study has revealed the incredibly ancient pre-stone circle landscape, upon which Stonehenge now stands.

New research by the University of Southampton has plotted the Mesolithic environment of the now Salisbury Plain, 4,000 years prior to the construction of the world famous sarsen and bluestone monument.

A team of academics explored Blick Mead, a Mesolithic archaeological site within a chalkland spring area about a mile from Stonehenge.

They discovered evidence that the landscape was not covered in dense, closed canopy forests during the later Mesolithic period, as was previously theorised.

Instead, it was only partially wooded and was a grazing ground for huge bovine aurochs, red deer, elk and wild boar.

This would have made it an attractive hunting ground for ancient human hunter-gatherers, before the arrival of the Neolithic farmers, who would go in to build Stonehenge and a host of similar monuments.

Lead researcher, Samuel Hudson, of Geography and Environmental Science at Southampton said: “There has been intensive study of the Bronze Age and Neolithic history of the Stonehenge landscape, but less is known about earlier periods.

“The integration of evidence recovered from previous excavations at Blick Mead, coupled with our own fieldwork, allowed us to understand more about the flora and fauna of the landscape prior to construction of the later world-famous monument complex.”

He added: “Past theories suggest the area was thickly wooded and cleared in later periods for farming and monument building.

“However, our research points to pre-Neolithic, hunting-gatherer inhabitants, living in open woodland, which supported aurochs and other grazing herbivores.”

The researchers studied pollen, fungal spores and traces of DNA preserved in ancient sediment, alongside optically stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon dating to map an environmental history of the site. 

Their findings enabled them to produce a picture of the habitat in the area from the later Mesolithic (5500 BC) to the Neolithic (from 4,000 BC).

The research indicates that later Mesolithic populations at Blick Mead used the open and expansive conditions to repeatedly exploit groups of large ungulates (hoofed mammals), until a transition to an agrarian and monument-building society took place.

These practices over the centuries made the site perfect for the construction of the breathtaking megalithic site and other large-scale monument building, as the land was pre-cleared.

The team suggested there was continuity between the inhabitants of the two eras, who used the land in different ways, but understood it to be a favourable location.

I would note that the lingering presence of the hunter-gatherer caste, which was revered in similar and broadly contemporary Neolithic sites, like Newgrange, in Ireland, may have also rendered the location one of ritual or spiritual significance.

The hunt was of supreme importance, not just for survival, but for religion, with Mesolithic societies donning horned headgear as part of shamanic-style worship.

The conclusions of the team from Southampton, working with colleagues at the universities of Buckingham, Tromsø and Salzburg, are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The team is now planning further exploration of the Mesolithic history of the area, which they hope to begin at the end of this year.

Noah’s Great Flood: Does mountain in Bulgaria prove it happened?

The story the great flood, which in the Judeo-Christian sphere, is associated with Noah’s Ark, is an almost universal archetype.

Tales exist not just in the Bible, but in Hindu, Sumerian and Chinese folklore. The story also appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh and in Native American folklore.

One might also consider the scant references, from Plato, of the mythical disappearance of Atlantis beneath the waves.

Was this rendition an allegorical injunction against hubris, or a kernel of truth from a dim and distant past at the dawn of human society?

The only primary sources for Atlantis are Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias.

The dialogues claim to quote the Athenian lawmaker Solon, who visited sacred Egyptian sites between 590 and 580 BC.

The story goes that he translated Egyptian records of Atlantis.

Writing in 360 BC, around 200 years after the death of Solon, Plato introduced Atlantis in Timaeus.

He wrote: “For it is related in our records how once upon a time your State stayed the course of a mighty host, which, starting from a distant point in the Atlantic ocean, was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe, and Asia to boot.

“For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, ‘the pillars of Heracles,’ there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travellers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses that veritable ocean.

“For all that we have here, lying within the mouth of which we speak, is evidently a haven having a narrow entrance; but that yonder is a real ocean, and the land surrounding it may most rightly be called, in the fullest and truest sense, a continent.

“Now in this island of Atlantis there existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvellous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent.”

It seems the Atlanteans had got too big for their boots in attacking and conquering other lands and were ultimately brought low by a series of natural disasters following a war between the empire of Atlantis and the nations that lay inside the pillars of Hercules, thought by many to refer to the Straight of Gibraltar.

This cataclysmic battle and subsequent disastrous reckoning was said to have taken place 9,000 years before Plato’s Socratic character Critias’ lifetime.

On the destruction and deluge that swallowed the continent, Critias said: “But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.

“For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.”

In the Biblical sense, the Book of Genesis, chapter 6, verse 17, reads: “And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.”

But what is the truth, if any, of this alleged divine retribution?

Some researchers argue there was an ancient Black Sea flood, which could – with a few millennia of embellishment – match the level of devastation described.

Although doubts remain, as this location is nowhere near Gibraltar.

However it is only a problem in my own conflation of the great flood and the sinking of Atlantis.

So, leaving that aside for a moment, let us look at the evidence for the Black Sea being the location of the great flood.

In Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, just outside the city centre, en route to the airport, is the majestic volcanic Mount Vitosha, which features a number of caves.

It is in this fascinating geological warren, which is the longest subterranean cave complex in Bulgaria, that Professor Yavor Shopov, of Sofia University, found the evidence he claims proves that the great flood was real.

He pointed to ancient residue in one particular cave, in the form of stalagmites and stalactites, to substantiate his theory.

He said: “All these stalagmites and stalactites, they are formed as a result of rainwater passing through the bedrock.”

Like tree rings he says he was able to calculate rainfall levels going back thousands of years. One layer, in the sequence was found to be far thicker than any of the others.

Professor Shopov said: “It has been formed 7,500 years ago. And there was fifty times present day precipitation. We have a special theory about this.”

He demonstrated the theory using a cross section of one of the stone formations. In one of the bands of sediment there was evidence of a massive increase in rainfall.

The academic claims this could be the result of an impact of a heavenly body on the sun.

“If a very large asteroid would fall directly on the surface of the sun,” he said.

The professor argues the impact of an asteroid, measuring around two to three kilometres in radius, caused a huge increase in solar radiation – known as a solar flare.

Professor Shopov says that after the impact there would be a rapid rise in the Earth’s temperature causing huge seawater evaporation and leading to a massive increase in rainfall.

“That’s the kind of event which is described in the historical sources,” he said.

He added: “There are really not so many asteroids so big, so that’s why, hopefully, this kind of event may happen quite rarely.”

Others point to a Black Sea flood at the end of the last Ice Age, with melting ice causing a drastic increase in sea levels.

Mediterranean seawater rapidly flowed through the Bosphorus creating the Black Sea from a previous freshwater lake.

Professor Petko Dimitrov of the Institute of Oceanology – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, in Varna, said: “The first evidence for the Black Sea flood are the old shorelines found in the Black Sea basin. This ancient shoreline lies at around 90 to 120 metres deep.”

He analysed core samples from the seabed and found the remains of shells and plankton that could not have lived in saltwater.

It was suggested that Neolithic settlements on the original banks of the body of water were submerged and destroyed by the rising water levels.

In 2011, researcher Konstantin Chterev led a team that carried out surveys in the Black Sea.

One probe was dredged up and contained pieces of wood that Chterev claims were from a drowned Neolithic settlement.

He said: “There’s no way these pieces of wood could be from a ship or something there’s no way [for them] to be there, except [if] there’s an ancient village or something at that depth.”

Professor Dimitrov and colleagues even claim to be confident of one day finding Noah’s Ark in the Black Sea.

In a 2006 paper called ‘The Flood in the Black Sea – Science and Mythology’ the team wrote: “Juxtaposing the data from the Black Sea’s natural events and archaeo-mythology, as well as the legend of Noah’s ark, we can claim with a high degree of reliability that the remains of the ark are located within the Black Sea bottom.

“They are situated at contemporary depths of about 40m, where Noah’s ship anchored after the flood.

“During the last 8,000 years, the remains of the ship and Noah’s grave have been covered with alluvial and marine silts.

“The discovery of the remains is a task of high priority for modern marine archaeology. The restoration of deepwater geo-archaeological exploration is not only a matter of prestige for marine science, but also an important criterion for clarifying a key page of the most ancient human history that transpired in our lands.”

Archaeology could also point to an advanced Black Sea civilisation.

The intricate and mathematically detailed objects in the horde, known as the Varna Necropolis Gold, is more than 6,000 years old and could represent evidence of the oldest European civilisation.

It is theorised that the civilisation was devastated by the flood, but refugees migrated to other places taking their knowledge and stories of the flood with them, leading to ancient Egyptian, Greek and Sumerian civilisations more than one thousand years later.

This could be the genesis of the legend of Atlantis or, at least, the central truth of the far-reaching great flood myth.

Is this the home of King Arthur’s Lady of the Lake?

Is this body of water in Cornwall the home of the mythical Lady if the Lake?

The lake is Dozmary Pool, on Bodmin Moor, one of the sources of the River Fowey.

The lake has been significant to people since prehistory, with the antiquarian and folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould saying it was abundant in fish and surrounded by numerous remains of Stone Age flint working.

Dozmary Pool is one site that is claimed to be the watery residence of the Lady of the Lake.

According to legend Arthur, King of the Britons, rowed out to the Lady of the Lake, sometimes called Nimue, and received the magical sword Excalibur at Dozmary Pool.

After Arthur was mortally wounded, at the Battle of Camlann, the blade was said to have been returned to the water by Bedivere.

The act of deposition of sacred or valuable objects – particularly arms – alluded to in the legend recalls very real religious and cultural practices.

At the time Arthur is supposed to have lived there were still practitioners of Druidic belief or at least knowledge of them.

Added to this there is also the possibility that Merlin described, perhaps colloquially or cryptically, as a ‘bard’, was a Druid.

Druids, known to the Classical World from the 4th century BC, could have continued traditions and practices from as far back as the second and third millennia BC.

In this context deposition to the Chthonic deities took place in the earth, or bodies of water.

Examples of earth deposition include pits at Woodhenge or Durrington Walls, near Stonehenge, or the stone circle and henge at Avebury.

The concept can be seen as being continued into the Bronze and Iron Ages in the form of grave goods deposited in burial mounds.

Objects deliberately placed in water include the ornate Battersea Shield and the Waterloo Bridge Helmet, as well as the far older Dagenham Idol.

The deposition of votive objects and also defixiones, or requests for divine damnation of enemies, also took place at the sacred waters of Bath.

These were offerings or appeals to the deity Sulis, later amalgamated with the Roman goddess Minerva, to form the compound deity Sulis-Minerva, via the process of ‘interpretatio Romana’.

A rich earth deposition was discovered in Folly Lane, St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 1991-92, which was part of the burial rites of a late Iron Age Catevellauni chieftain.

The complexity of the funerary chamber, burial mound and enclosure at the site pointed to complicated rituals having taken place. It was determined the site was the tomb of a client king who died in the years immediately following the Rome’s invasion of Britain, in AD 43.

Treasures discovered with the cremated body included enamelled horse equipment, a chariot, a tunic of iron mail armour and at least 15lbs of silver. 

It was said that all the grave goods were burned on the funeral pyre with the body.

David Thorold, Curator, Pre-historic to Medieval at Verulamium Museum, said of the discovery: “The whole site is exceptional; the evidence of an elaborate ritual, the imposing character of the enclosure and its position overlooking the Roman town, the wealth of the grave goods and the fact that a Romano-Celtic temple was subsequently built on the site of the funeral pyre, are all proof that the rites and ceremonies performed here were of overwhelming significance to the local population.”

Returning to Dozmary Pool, it is clear this atmospheric location within the ruggedly beautiful Bodmin Moor is the kind of place that should attract association with legends.

And, so it is, that the lake is also linked to a sinister deal with the Devil.

The tall tale goes that Jan Treageagle, a 17th century steward and cruel magistrate under the Duchy of Cornwall, was on the trail of deviant activities and made a so-called Faustian pact with Satan to gain wealth and influence.

The deal dictated that on his death Treageagle would be damned to forever attempt to empty the allegedly bottomless Dozmary Pool with a leaky limpet shell.

But in death, as in life, Treageagle was not a man to discharge his duties faithfully.

He was said to have escaped from his endless task fleeing to Roche Rock with demons giving chase, before being set another impossible task.

This time he had to weave ropes from sand. Tales abound that Treageagle’s tormented ghost still wails across Bodmin Moor.

Whatever the truth or allegory of these tales their very existence proves a spiritual and potentially historical significance for this eerie place.

Is it the home to the Lady of the Lake? Who knows, but it’s as good as any.

What is the Hidden History channel?

Paul Christian set up Hidden History, in a meaningful sense, at the start of the lockdown as something to do in some very dull times. With the present and future looking a bit bleak he looked to inspiration from the past.

It is a channel dedicated to bringing history to light and to life. The channel covers anything of interest with history news and new discoveries featuring as shorter videos and longer documentary type uploads, often with a particular focus on folklore and comparative mythology.

Away from the channel Paul has written a number of books about subjects that have piqued his interest, including Jack the Ripper, the Dyatlov Pass mystery and a historical travelogue called ‘Dark Secrets of Central Europe: A Tale of Three Cities’.

Social media:

Twitter: @H1ddenH1story

Instagram: @H1ddenH1story




Stonehenge insulted by visiting tourists – ‘Just a bunch of rocks…’

Stonehenge has been insulted by visiting tourists.

The incredible Neolithic stone circle was voted one of the top three worst tourist attractions in the world for value for money, but also derided as “just a bunch of rocks”.

The other two in the top three list were Buckingham Palace and the Empire State Building, in New York.

A survey of visitors’ reactions by the Park Sleep Fly travel company revealed that while many marvel at the Salisbury Plain monument, some tourists were utterly unimpressed.

One visitor complained about the £19.50 ticket price, saying: “It is a rip-off, typical British management, unfriendly sociopathic people greedy for money and adverse to culture.”

Despite the breathtaking site being the subject of a new exhibition at the British Museum, it stone circle and associated landscape turned off some tourists.

One said: “If you want to see a bunch of old stones piled on top of one another, go to your local cemetery” and another tourist added: “It really isn’t as impressive as you would think or imagine, the stones are a lot smaller than expected.”

Park Sleep Fly commented: “Stonehenge is a famous UK landmark, although it appears that a number of its visitors aren’t too impressed, with eight per cent of reviews being negative.”

Buckingham Palace scored fewer bad reviews than Stonehenge, with 3.3 per cent complaining about their experience for the £30 entry price.

One visitor wrote on Trip Advisor: “Waste of money, most of the garden roped off, extra to see the rose garden. I would not recommend this experience, more time is spent in the queue getting through security.”

And another, after touring the palace last August, said: “This should be a zero rating. Most of the garden is cordoned off and I would say the garden is shabby at best.

“They suggest you spend two or three hours there. You won’t be there that long because it’s boring, unless you picnic on the lawn. The Queen is definitely not a gardener.”

But at least the two UK landmarks did not rate worst on the list.

According to the 4.2 per cent of visitors who resented the £32.57 price of experiencing a trip there, the Empire State Building is the number one worst-value tourist attraction in the world.

One TripAdvisor reviewer said of the New York landmark: “The view is terrible.”

I have not been to the Empire State Building. And I have to say I’ve never had much regard for Buckingham Palace and think it is gaudy and unimpressive.

But Stonehenge is a captivating place that is well worth a visit.

Mysterious Nebra Sky Disc explained

The controversial and stunning Nebra Sky Disc is currently one of the centrepieces of the World of Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum.

But what is it?

The ancient object, thought to be the world’s oldest map of the stars, is thought by many to be a Bronze Age relic dating back 3,600 years.

The information board at the British Museum exhibition states that the bronze and gold artefact is “the oldest known material depiction of cosmic phenomena in the world”.

It adds: “It reveals the creativity and advanced astronomical knowledge of cultures without writing.

“The distinctive rosette of seven stars represents the Pleiades. These stars play a key role in an ancient rule, known from a 2,700-year-old Babylonian text, that allowed the shorter lunar year to be kept in step with the solar year.

“A leap month should be added every third year if a crescent moon a few days old appears next to the Pleiades in the springtime sky.”

The disc demonstrates the interconnected nature of our ancient past.

It was made using gold from Cornwall and bronze from central Europe and was remodelled as its meaning and use changed.

The exhibition says that, like Stonehenge’s alignment, the bands on either side marked the positions of the rising and setting sun over the course of the solar year.

What the exhibition does not mention, perhaps for the sake of cordial relations with the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, from which it has loaned the artefact and accompanying horde, is the controversy around its discovery.

Its existence came to light in Germany in 1999.

While many see the disc as one of the most significant archaeological finds in history, some experts believe it to be a fake.

The object was discovered near the town of Nebra, in Germany, along with swords, axes and other items dating from the Bronze Age.

But it is the criminal manner of its discovery that has is intriguing.

It was located using a metal detector by two illegal treasure hunters and later seized by police officers in a sting operation.

Last year a paper was released by two archaeologists who say the disc is actually 1,000 younger than its Bronze Age designation, placing it in the Iron Age.

It’s presence at the exhibition is the first time it is being loaned out in 15 years.

On the accompanying objects the British Museum states: “The Nebra Sky Disc was part of an intentional and carefully-made offering.

“The pairing of the swords, axes and spiral arm-rings is comparable to other important contemporary burials.

“However, they were not placed in a grave.

“The knowledge contained within the disc, and the collective memory of those who used it to decode and celebrate the skies, was perhaps too powerful to be deposited with any one individual.”

Neil Wilkin, curator of The World Of Stonehenge exhibition, said: “The Nebra Sky Disc and the sun pendant are two of the most remarkable surviving objects from Bronze Age Europe.

“Both have only recently been unearthed, literally, after remaining hidden in the ground for over three millennia.”

Within the context of the exhibition the Nebraska Sky Disc is used to demonstrate that knowledge of the stars and their movements across ancient skies were better known than previously believed.

It also highlights the shared culture, practices and interconnectedness of out distant forebears at the dawn of civilisation.

The exhibition is wonderful and the disc itself is a staggering sight to behold, regardless of – and perhaps partly because of – the controversy that surrounds it.

The Lord of the Rings and the REAL ‘Rings of Power’

“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”

The verse written by JRR Tolkien, supposedly while he was in the bath, to describe the dominion of the One Ring and the other Rings of Power has come into sharp focus recently, with the first teaser trailer for Amazon’s new Lord of the Rings TV show being revealed.

There has been some controversy over the trailer, which I am not going to add to here but, instead, I’m going to look at the real Rings of Power from history and how they directly and indirectly influenced Tolkien’s epic story.

On a general note to begin with the shape of rings holds an ethereal innate power in and of itself.

From ring-shaped settlements like the mystical isle of Avalon, thought by some to have been at Glastonbury Tor, to the concentric rings of the harbour at the mythical island of Atlantis, the shape has occupied prime positions in some of the most perplexing and intriguing mysteries of history and mythology.

There is too King Arthur’s round table and the sacred geometry of rings as demonstrated at Glastonbury Abbey’s octagon and circle-based design.

Then there are stone circles like Avebury, Stonehenge and the Rollright Stones.

An ancient pagan practice in England, called passing through and under, made use of holes in trees and stones – either natural or man-made – as a healing ritual.

Even looking through holes was a ritual for the Norse, with descriptions and art showing that the forming of a ring shape, by bending the arm and placing a hand at the hip, formed a portal which could be gazed through to see another world or a god, such as Odin.

The circular and spiritually-significant torques of the ancient Celts and arm rings of Norse warriors see the motif appear again.

Sticking with Vikings, the cyclical nature of Norse mythology, from the beginning of time to Ragnarök and then the birth of a new world sees a more abstract cosmological ring brought into being.

The Midgard serpent Jormungandr – a great snake that encircles the world was one of the chief protagonists in this mythology.

Then there are rings in their actual jewellery form.

These include Draupnir (Dripper) – a magical ring possessed by Odin that can multiply itself. Every ninth night, eight new rings ‘drip’ from Draupnir, each one of the same size and weight as the original.

And the ring called Andvaranaut, which the chaotic and mischievous god Loki stole from Andvari.

In revenge, Andvari cursed the ring to bring misery and suffering to whoever possessed it.

Loki offloaded Andvaranaut to Hreidmar, King of the Dwarves as recompense for having inadvertently killing his son Ótr.

Ótr’s brother, Fafnir, murdered Hreidmar and took the ring, turning into a dragon to guard it.

This formed the basis of the gold-obsessed Smaug in Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’.

The great hero Sigurd, or Siegfried, later killed Fafnir and gave Andvaranaut to Brünnehilde.

Following a complex web of ownership echoed by Tolkien’s One Ring, Queen Grimhild of the Nibelungs then manipulated Sigurd and Brünnehilde into marrying her children, bringing the Andvaranaut curse into her family.

This tale was originally told in Volsunga Saga and later adapted by Richard Wagner into his operatic epic Der Ring des Nibelungen, or Ring Cycle.

One can also look to the Norse sun wheel, a transplanted version of far older Indo-European mythology, linked to the power of the cosmos and the might of the thunder god Thor.

In the sixth century Saint Kentigern, who was associated with a series of miracles, is reported to have found a powerful ring in a salmon.

The story is referenced on the seal of the City of Glasgow, of which Kentigern, also known as Mungo, is a patron.

The motif of a ring in water being swallowed by a salmon is a common one.

It is included in the Aarne-Thompson international catalogue, which records common tropes and tale types in folklore.

This means the story is found in other traditional literatures from other regions or countries, lending weight to it having a very ancient origin.

In an Irish variant Ailill casts a ring into a stream for it to be swallowed by a salmon.

A long time later the ring is discovered by the hero Fráech, son of Béḃinn, a goddess associated with birth and the sister of the river goddess Boann.

Irish and Welsh myths also describe Béḃinn as an underworld goddess.

Enchanted rings are a popular feature of European folk magic, with many objects said to be imbued with a celestial power to ward off demons or illnesses.

One such object is the Bramham Moor Ring, which was found in Yorkshire and dates from the ninth century. It bears a mysterious runic inscription that has yet to be deciphered, but is thought, by some, to be magical.

It is one of a number of Anglo-Saxon runic rings, with the Bramham Moor Ring and the Kingmoor Ring both bearing a near identical magical runic formula.

On the former, this undeciphered inscription read: “ærkriufltkriuriþonglæstæpontol”.

Despite the messages’ meaning remaining uncertain, the ærkriu portion of the inscription has been claimed by some to be a charm to staunch the flow of blood.

Remaining with the Anglo-Saxons, Old English kennings – literary devices that were extended metaphors – included references to ring-givers, which were taken to mean overlords or rulers.

In the Anglo-Saxon epic poem ‘Beowulf’, King Hrothgar is described as a “guardian of ring hordes”, alluding to his wealth and power. The power, in particular, of patronage.

The giving of a ring as the bestowing of a slice of that power.

That these references appear in ‘Beowulf’ is significant as the poem was one of the main influences for Tolkien in his crafting of the Lord of the Rings.

The world he brought to life was supposed to be a lost mythology of England, both Anglo-Saxon and Celtic. Stripped away by the ceaseless cycle of invasions by, ironically, the Norse, whom he used as strong influences in his writing, and later by the Norman French, who sought to diminish Englishness and its ancient traditions and impose the rigid Norman culture.

The Normans can be seen as the embodiment of power, brutally demonstrated by their construction of vast castles to subdue their new English subjects.

It has to be noted also that, despite Tolkien’s stated dislike of allegory, The Shire was a representation of a rural idyll of a lost England. This vanished land was robbed, at first by the Normans, and later by the ceaseless march of industry and the jarring modernity of the First World War.

Magic rings were also a part of medieval Jewish esoteric tradition. They are mentioned in the Talmud and Midrash.

One such example is Solomon’s magical ring, which had a number of legendary powers.

This included making him a master of animals, able to speak with beasts and giving him the ability of being all-knowing.

The ring was said to have bore a special sigil that sealed genies into bottles.

In Kabbalah the ilan, or tree of life, is represented as a series of rings, called sephiroth, connected by lines that that represent different aspects of God.

Practitioners used these images to connect with the almighty and some believed this union could help them to influence the material world.

Ouroboros, from Greek magical tradition and associated with alchemy, is represented as a snake eating its own tail.

It symbolises life, death and rebirth, with the potent symbol also linked with transmigration of the soul.

The significance of rings is present in Christian practices too.

For Catholics the sacrament of marriage is a public sign that an individual is giving themselves totally to another person.

The rings used in weddings are a visual representation of this relinquishment of self.

And the Fisherman’s Ring, part of the Pope’s official regalia, is a signet ring used to seal and authorise official Vatican documents.

A custom, that dates from at least the Medieval period, sees Catholics kissing the ring when meeting the Pope to demonstrate their devotion.

These are just some of the real rings of power from history, which Tolkien either drew on directly or would undoubtedly have been aware of when writing the Lord of the Rings.

It is, perhaps, one of the main reasons why the story is so resonant. It is almost innate in the human condition that rings, both real or conceptual, hold a spiritual power in the collective consciousness.