I bet you’re thinking, ‘ooh, that looks a bit like the ring in Lord of the Rings’. Well, you wouldn’t be far wrong. This ring is 9th century and made by anglo-saxons, and JRR Tolkien was an expert in anglo-saxon language and literature. I don’t doubt he knew the Kingmoor Ring very well.
It’s called the Kingmoor Ring because it was found at Greymoor Hill, near Kingmoor, a couple of miles north of Carlisle – locals will know this is now the location of Junction 44 on the M6. As is often the case with these old finds, it was found in a completely unremarkable way. A young man was hammering away at a wonky fence some time in the very early 1800s and came across it in the ground. It was in the possession of the Earl of Aberdeen by 1822 and was passed to the British Museum in 1858.
The Kingmoor Ring is gold, with a diameter of 27mm, which makes me think it must be a man’s ring. There is an inscription on it in runes, permanently blackened with niello so the letters still stand out over 1100 years after it was made (that would have confounded Sauron). Another near-identical ring, known as the Bramham Moor Ring, was found in West Yorkshire in the early 18th century.
I bet you’re waiting for me to tell you that the inscription means something prosaic – perhaps the owner’s name, or a dedication to a family member or a deity? Well, you’d be wrong. To quote the British Museum, ‘various attempts to decipher the inscriptions on these two rings… are not regarded as successful. … the sense is very probably magical’1.
The words have been transcribed from runes as ærkriufltkriuriƥonglæstæpon tol. The ‘ærkriu’ part is believed to be a spell to stop bleeding, which is also found in a 9th-century anglo-saxon medical manuscript known as Bald’s Leechbook. The rest of the phrase isn’t strictly logical but includes words and terms seen in other known charms2. It does include an Irish phrase for ‘stream of blood’ and a reference to alder.
Alder trees feature in other remedies in Bald’s Leechbook but I also recall a reference I discovered when researching Cocidius, the local pre-Roman war god. Cocidius is sometimes described as Cocidius Vernostonus, or ‘cocidius of the alder tree'; it’s not known whether that was making a link between a god of war and ancient forest deities, or, possibly more likely, referencing the blood-red sap of freshly-cut alder wood. The Kingmoor Ring was found within a very few miles of a great many Cocidius inscriptions, which makes me wonder if the alder/blood reference was understood a full millenium before the anglo-saxon chap lost his ring.
Charms to prevent blood loss continued through the centuries. In 17th century Germany, Robert Goclenius the Younger developed a charm which used cupric sulphate, also known as roman vitriol or weaponsalve. The chemical was smeared on the weapon that had caused the injury to cause the wound to close – a remedy for peace time only, it would seem. Weaponsalve soon became popular in Britain, too. In 18th century Cumbria, a different charm to close wounds involved collecting a few drops of spilled blood and using the very same chemical. In this charm, the chemical itself turned into blood as the bleeding stopped.
Wearing a magical ring seems much simpler, doesn’t it?
There is a replica of the Kingmoor Ring at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.
2. See Anglo Saxon England, vol 27 by Michael Lapidge, Malcolm Golden and Simon Keynes (2007), p292.
Bald’s Leechbook survives in one copy which is kept in the British Library.