Text Box: Puzzle of the Turkish Puzzle Ring:  Keltic or an Anecdotal Finding?
by
Paul T. McTurk
June 1, 2000
 
PS: Also, please note the author’s 2006, 2008 through 2011 addenda at the end
 
Abstract
 
There is a growing interest in the Keltic Galatian history in Turkey, where Galatians lived, and 
abroad.  Unfortunately, the study of Galatian heritage of Turkey has been historically 
neglected under the classical historical assumption that Galatians died out in Turkey without 
leaving a trace of their culture.  This paper discusses a minute finding that may be a turning 
point in our interest and knowledge of the Galatian cultural existence and survival in Turkey.  
This finding is a design connection between the contemporary Turkish puzzle ring that 
originated in Anatolia and the contemporary Keltic rings currently designed in Scotland and 
elsewhere in the world.
 
Introduction and background
 
Galatian history and the influence of Keltic Galatians on the culture and ethnicity of the people of Turkey have been somewhat unknown and one of the less interesting subjects as it is related to the history of the world and the Kelts. 
 
Initially, the history of Keltic Galatians was based on the biblical, Greek and Roman accounts.   Because Kelts did not write, almost all we know about their history is through their archrivals Romans, Hellenes, and, without a doubt, politically motivated accounts and/or interpretations of the scholars and statesmen of the late antiquity and early medieval times.[1, 2]  
 
Until the end of the 1800’s, our knowledge of the Galatians has been a static one.  However, although still unnoticed by the mainstream textbooks of history, Ramsay’s [2] research at the turn of the 20th century, and Mitchell’s [1] studies at the turn of the 21st century indicate an ever increasing numerical presence of a once greatly underestimated Keltic population in Anatolia where the modern state of Turkey lies today.
 
Starting in the 1800’s almost every theory, every piece of new information and finding regarding the Galatians indicate a constantly changing picture of the Anatolian Kelts or Galatians: from a small conglomeration of a few Keltic tribes -upon their barbarian acts, who were quickly immobilized and confined to highlands of the inner Anatolia- to a massive Keltic cultural and ethnical existence that not only opposed the Hellenization of Anatolia, but also survived the Keltic language and culture most likely until the arrival of Turkic tribes and even beyond.  Such a possibility exists.
 
Increasingly, the evidence of waves of Keltic migration to Anatolia, far higher in numbers then was previously evaluated before [1] is becoming a point of discussion.  Consequently, the harder one looks into the existing data, the more Keltic influence appears to exist.  What was once considered a couple of hundred years of assimilation of Keltic people and a loss of Keltic character strangely manifest itself in the arts, language, and, even in the folklore of the people of Turkey twenty three hundred years after the first Keltic tribes settled in Anatolias.  Most current evaluations of the Galatian history emphasize the survival of Galatian identity, including the language, well into the 5th century AD [1].  
 
The beginning date for the initial settlement of Asiatic Turks in Anatolia is formally recognized as 1071 AD, as the end of the battle of the Manzikiert Field between the Romans and Turkic Seljuks.  However, Asiatic Turks established diplomatic relationship and cooperation with Romans during the 8th century and perhaps began settling in the Anatolias as early as 6th and 7th centuries [3, 4].  For instance, soon after his crowning as the Roman Emperor in 802 AD, Nikephoros 1 had to deal with an Anatolian rebellion headed by Bardanios Tourkos [6] (Bardanios the Turk (Bardan the Turk,) A.D. 740-811).  In addition, Romans also signed an agreement with another Turkic State, Gurtarks, to prevent Turkics from their passage in forms of individual clans into Anatolias in exchange for an annual payment in the forms of gold, goods and slaves.  Fine pieces of evidence such as above indicate a reasonable possibility -unlike the current historical belief- that Asiatic Turks started settling in Anatolias (or Galatia) long before A.D. 1071 and not with armies but rather in small clans of families and that Keltic culture survived in Anatolia by an initial assimilation of Turkic clans until the weakening of Roman influence and beyond and shaped the present ethnic and cultural identity of Turkey.
 
Our current knowledge of Galatia covers the history of the Anatolian highlands with more or less in detail until the middle of the 5th century, and it suddenly stops and takes off again around 1100 AD.  There is a silent gap of approximately 600 years.  About this gap, we know very little.  This gap is precisely the time period when Galatians truly began losing their identity as Galatians and mixed with the Asiatic Turks, while the Kelts of Europe were being overwhelmed by the migration of Nordic and Germanic tribes following the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  Again, this gap is precisely the time period that shadows the fate of the Anatolian Kelts and appearance of the Asiatic Turks.
 
The existing Keltic studies on Anatolia, almost exclusively, make use of the archeological findings, and the old written scripts of non-Keltic origin with the exception of a few studies that attempt to identify the Keltic heritage in the art, culture, and tradition of the rural Anatolian Turks in a limited manner [2, 6]. 
 
Therefore, cross-cultural and cross-regional methods may be useful in increasing our knowledge on the subject area.  One of the methods for investigating the heritage of Kelts in Anatolia may be to look into the existing art forms to see if there are any connections to the known and recognized Keltic designs elsewhere in the world.  In particular, certain elements of contemporary Anatolian art designs may be compared with the existing art designs in countries such as Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  
 
The purpose of this study is to document one such comparison.  The issue is the resemblance of certain contemporary designer rings that independently originated in Turkey and Scotland some 40 years apart, namely the Turkish Puzzle Ring and the Celtic Knot Ring.  
 
 
Turkish Puzzle Ring
 
We know nothing about the history nor the true origin of the Turkish puzzle ring, although it is said to be of an ancient design.  Turkish puzzle ring has been a commodity in Jewelry stores in Turkish markets forever and was once very popular, especially during the 1960’s and 1970’s..  
 
The original design is a cluster of four bands that could form a single ring that looks like a knot.  The challenge is to re-arrange the bands into a matching form to solve the puzzle.  Therefore, Turkish puzzle ring had a dual functionality: worn as an ornament and used as a puzzle.  Because of its popularity, 5, 6 and even 24 band models were developed later.  A picture of the original 4-band Turkish puzzle ring is given in Figure 1.  Figures 2 and 3 exhibit the dismantling of the puzzle ring into its individual pieces.
 

 
 

 
 

 
Currently, Turkish puzzle ring is being marketed by a number of mail order companies as an import catalog item and becoming increasingly popular in the Western world.
 
 
Keltic Knot Ring
 
As a response to recent Keltic nostalgia among the general public in the Western world, such Keltic jewelry designs originated from historical documents [7].  Various bracelets, earrings, and rings are marketed by numerous catalog houses.
 
These designs include strings, knots, plants and animals such as snakes with dragon heads.  There has been a general explanation for the lack or scarcity of animal figures in the early Keltic arts in that pagan Keltic religion was against worshipping of animals and material objects [6]. Whatever the reason may be, it is a fact that knot plays an important role in the ancient Keltic arts.  
 
Figure 4 shows two examples of contemporary interpretations of Keltic rings that are currently marketed in merchandise and mail order catalogs.  Each ring has 3 knots with each knot interconnected by the over-extending strands of the adjacent knots. The Keltic knot ring is a single piece, solid golden ring.
 

 
This particular ring is also a contemporary product sold via merchandise catalogs [8] in the USA.  It is said that this particular ring design is hand-crafted by artisans in Scotland’s Orkney Islands, inspired by historical designs.
 
In Figure 4, it is possible to see that each individual knot of the ring is also composed of four strings.  While it may be difficult to trace these strings with naked eye, the picture in Figure 5 was prepared to show the crossover points of both types of rings in close-up. 
 
Comparison of the Keltic and Turkic ring designs
 

 
Figure 6 shows a hand-drawn three dimensional visualization of both rings.
 

Apparently the main difference is that the Turkish puzzle ring -on the left- has a string that actually acts as a band over the other strings while the corresponding string of the Keltic ring undulates between the other three strings, thus forming a complete knot.  Therefore, if one pulls the strings of the Keltic knot laterally (on the right), the knot persists, hence the eternal knot.  However, if one pulls the strings of the Turkish design laterally, -assuming that the bands are strings of soft material- the knot is untied.  This only difference between the two designs is surely not a coincidence but a functional difference serving a purpose.  Keltic knot was meant to stay as a knot, and its Turkish counterpart was meant to be a puzzle as well as a piece of jewelry.  Thus, the difference is not a true difference, rather a solution to an engineering problem.   
 
Moreover there are seven crossover points in each design.  Assuming that now all seven intersections are identical – which 4 of them are, with the differences in the other three are as explained above – a pure chance of obtaining the same design in two unrelated items would be equal to the 7th power of 2 which is 1 in 128 without even considering the number of strings used in both design is equal to four.  This should be considered reasonable evidence that this common design originates from a single source that is Keltic.
 
Furthermore, if the three dimensional design is reduced to a two dimensional design as shown in Figure 7, again, they both look identical.
 

 
 
Summary and Conclusion
 
In the view of the above discussion and the evidence provided, Turkish puzzle ring appears to be a well hidden artifact of the living Keltic culture among the modern day Turkish people for the following reasons:
 
Both rings are contemporary products that are designed independent of each other’s existence.
 
Both rings claim their origins in ancient designs.
 
Both rings originate in the regions of the world where Keltic tribes once lived.
 
Both rings exhibit knot appearance.
 
Both rings exhibit a four-string or four-band design.
 
In 3-D presentation, both rings exhibit similar knot appearance with 4 out of 7 cross-over points exactly matched, and the discrepancy in the remaining 3 cross-over points is due to the difference in the functionality of the two products as explained above.
 
In the 2-D reduced presentation, both rings indicate 100% identical designs.
 
 
Apart from the fact that both products are metal rings, the commonalities between the two contemporary products defy a coincidental similarity physically, mathematically, and historically. Therefore, both rings should share the same Keltic cultural origin.
 
The only reason that may separate these two rings as the products of two different cultures is the classical historical belief that Kelts in Anatolia died out culturally and ethnically without leaving a trace long before the arrival of Asiatic Turks.
 
Based on the above argument, it is apparent that the classical historical assumption regarding the fate of Galatians can not adequately explain the puzzle of the Turkish puzzle ring.  Clearly, the Turkish puzzle ring itself has no documented historical stories behind it.  Therefore, this finding may be a minute but important evidence of the Keltic cultural survival in present day Anatolia. 
 
Such cross-regional and cross-cultural studies could be helpful in discovering the extent of the Keltic heritage in Turkey.
 
Such studies could also help re-establish the knowledge of cultural heritage and the history of the modern Turkey, particularly as it is related to the above mentioned gap of knowledge of history between the 5th and 11th centuries.  Where written history fails, science dictates us to look into other evidence such as artifacts, common sense, arts, language and perhaps a more global evaluation of local data [1, 2].  Evidence is there and abundant.  All needed is a profound interest on the subject from within and outside the Turkey.
 
Finally and most importantly, the study of Keltic heritage in Anatolia and findings such as this may shed light on the overall Keltic studies in that it may provide a reference point to the Celtic scholar and historian in determining celticity and dating of certain elements in the early cultures of the countries that claim Keltic ancestry.
 
 
References
 
[1] Mitchell, Steven, "Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor," Volume 1, (includes St. Jerome’s account of survival of Galatian language in 5th century AD), 1994.
 
[2] Ramsay, William M., “Historical Commentary on Galatians,” edited by Mark Wilson from the original 1899 edition, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1997.
 
[3] Pitman III, Paul M., “Turkey: A Country Study,” Library of Congress, DC, USA, 1988.
 
[4] Gibbon, Edward, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., cI-II, Chicago, 1952.
 
[5] Lequenne, Fernand, “Les Galates,”  1987 translation by Suzan Albek of original 1908 edition, Turk Tarih Kurumu Basim Evi, Ankara, 1991.
 
[6] Umar, Bilge, "Medieval History of the People of Turkey," p. 55, Inkilap Kitapevi, Istanbul, 1998, ISBN 975-10-1225-2.
 
[7] The Book of Kells, written in the 8th and 9th centuries AD (Public domain copies available on the WEB).
 
[8] Wireless, A catalog for the fans and friends of public radio, Holiday Preview, Minnesota Public Radio, 1999.
 
Author’s Addendum, 5/4/2006:
I wrote this research article in 1999.  Sent a copy to the Celtic Studies Internet Site supported by the British Archaeological Institute in June 2000.  Not only it was not published but it was not even acknowledged, because the managers and researchers were too busy arguing over whose family created and published a certain dumpling recipe.  I had this article registered in the U.S. Library of Congress.  However, silently, “Keltic Puzzle Rings” started appearing in the markets during the past few years without even mentioning the “Turkish Puzzle Rings.”  So this development makes this article almost non-consequential.  Therefore, you are most likely to find puzzle rings under Turkish and Keltic headings, independently.  However, the truth is that these rings are Turkish Puzzle Rings.  This does not mean they are not Keltic, but the origin of puzzle ring is not the western but the eastern Kelts.  It is easy to prove this, since my original article was registered in 2001, and there is no document of proof for existence of an entity named “Keltic Puzzle Rings” prior to 2001.  
 
Addendum II, 2/21/2008
 
On February 12, 2008; I performed a Google search using various combinations of "puzzle ring."  Compared to little over 1200 sites containing the word "puzzle ring" in the year 1999, I found that currently 133,000 sites contain the word.  Amazingly 1,600 of those sites now use the adjective "Celtic," without any reference to its origins in Turkey.  In 1999, there were none.  The designs discussed in my original article used to be referred to as "Celtic Eternal Knot," in those days.  Obviously, those rings did not contain any movable parts either.
 
The sites using the word "Turkish Puzzle Ring" almost doubled compared to the 1999 Google search.  However, the Puzzle Ring business must be booming, because many other nationalities now appear to claim the puzzle ring their own.  It will be interesting to repeat the same search in a few years down the line.
 
As of 2/12/2008, the results of "puzzle ring search" using Google are given.  Please note that these numbers may fluctuate slightly on a day-to-day basis since some of the sites may not available 24/7 or they may be off-line for maintenance reasons.
 
"puzzle ring"			133,000 sites
"anatolian puzzle ring"		0
"armenian puzzle ring"		0
"assyrian puzzle ring"		0
"belgian puzzle ring"		0
"bulgarian puzzle ring"		0
"celtic puzzle ring"		1,600 sites
"dutch puzzle ring"		0
"egyptian puzzle ring" 		126 sites
"french puzzle ring"		0
"german puzzle ring"		0
"greek puzzle ring"		74 sites
"iranian puzzle ring"	 	0
"irish puzzle ring"		63 sites
"italian puzzle ring"		1 site
"persian puzzle ring"		0
"russian puzzle ring"		7 sites
"spanish puzzle ring"		2 sites
"swiss puzzle ring"		0
"syrian puzzle ring"		1 site
"turkish puzzle ring"		1,340 sites
 
Addendum 3,  4/1/2008
 
As I was contemplating that there is nothing new to be done on the subject until I found that there is another claim on the Internet dating back to a 2005 Wikipedia entry.  According to the entry, the puzzle ring has been a renaissance product, all along.  The article claimed that puzzle ring probably originated from “gimmel rings.”  So, there appears to be a dispute to the origin of the puzzle ring.  However I will let the numbers speak for themselves, for it is very difficult to manipulate the Internet data. It is clear from the Google research that with 1340 sites  Turkish puzzle ring is leading the list.  When I wrote the original article in the year of 2000, I could not find “puzzle ring” with Irish, Celtic, or with any other adjective but Turkish.  Simply because there was no such use in the Internet in the year 2000.  Not a single use.  However, the number of claimants to the puzzle ring appears to be creeping up. 
 As in the case of the Gimmel (or sometimes Gimmal) rings, they are not the same as the puzzle rings.  The origin of the Gimmel rings is attributed to Latin "Gemeli" meaning "twin."  It is believed that these rings were first produced in either France, Italy or England and they were popular during the 14-16th centuries.  Gimmal ring is said to be appeared during the Elizabethan times in England.  Any relations to the specific Turkish puzzle ring design cannot be seen from the neither the pictures provided nor the descriptions.  The characteristic of the Turkish Puzzle Ring is its being inseparable, whereas, a Gimmal ring appears to be separable so that each owner can share and wear a piece of it.  Naturally this very description tells us the Gimmal ring does not contain a "knot."  
Furthermore, the early antiquity artifacts dating to 1500 BC indicate that the knot used in the puzzle ring design to be a non-Celtic and non-Hellenic but of Anatolian origin, possibly Lydian.  At this point it is hard to say how the ring should be named.  However, Galatian ring would be a middle ground.  It's obvious that Galatians got the design from Lydians and made a ring out of that.  And through their Celtic contacts, the knots of different variations found their way into France and Ireland.  Even if the Galatians had not designed the knot, they did a great service by spreading the design.  
 
Addendum 4, 4/25/2009
I have been continually looking into the internet presentation of puzzle rings by their nationalities.
It appears that the popularity of the puzzle rings is growing fast.  Since the original publication of my article on the Turkish puzzle ring, there have been many internet entries outright naming the puzzle rings with other nationalities.  Apparently, Chinese, Russians, Greeks, Egyptians and Syrians are leading the pack by re-christening the puzzle ring.   With the exception of China, all these countries are geographically located around Turkey and they were part of the Ottoman empire for centuries until the end of the 19th century.  This regional affinity to the ring is also a further testament to the true origin of the puzzle ring.  However, China is to be explained by the fact that she is now the prime manufacturer of these rings.  In the near future, I would expect that number of “Chinese puzzle ring” containing phrases will outnumber the rest of the phrases, very much like American music was absorbed by distant cultures and populations in the 20th century. 
 
A complete list of the string search results was tabulated below.  The data with “*” denote the countries that were not accounted at the time of the Google search.
 
 


 
(*) No search was done under this name
 
There aren’t any credible references regarding these rings, except for the urban tales circulating in the Internet.  One of them is that it is a ring given by husband to wife to test the faithfulness of wife.  But how?  This is a finger ring not a chastity belt!  This story is not credible.  Another Internet story is that the father of the bride gives it to the groom so he plays with it rather than playing around with his daughter prior to the wedding.  This sound flat out absurd to me.  If this ring is coming from older times, the father-in-law need not be so considerate to give the groom (unless the groom is the king) a ring.  He would simply shoot the groom.!
Then, I attempted to find the oldest published reference to the Turkish puzzle ring.  I found the following piece dated 2002:
From the book "The Seventh Telling: The Kabbalah of Moeshe Kapan,"  by Mitchell Chefitz (p. 35, published in 2002 by MacMillan, ISBN:0312289227)
<< When the woman from Sweden had departed leaving the two of them side by side, Moshe looked to Rivkah's finger and saw there a Turkish puzzle ring.  "Is that one of those magical rings a woman wears, a puzzle ring, which, if a man solves it, he solves the secret to her heart?" >>
 
If any one out there can find excerpts from older sources, I would really appreciate knowing it and would love to add that information here, as well..
Addendum 5, May 22, 2010
It has been more than 10 years since I wrote the above article.  Since then, the increase in the interest towards the puzzle rings is startling me.  By the same token, it is also startling to see the puzzle rings are now being referred to as Russian, Indian or even Chinese…!  In despite of this, Asia Minor origin of the ring is still not disputed by most of the Internet sites.  It is also interesting to note that acceptance for the Celtic origin appears to be increasing as well.  While I may not claim a sole contribution to this development,  well over 30,000 visits took place in my Internet site.  Also, copies of my articles, or portions of them, are appearing in many other WEB sites and blogs.  Currently, it appears that a majority of puzzle rings, as with many gift items that used to be local to their native lands, are being produced in China.   Therefore, in the near future, the description of these rings may overwhelmingly be “Chinese puzzle ring” in some time in the future.  My consolation is that I have published and registered the above article with the U.S. Library of Congress before the globalization’s swallow of the puzzle ring.  

Addendum 6, March 12, 2011
I have finished this year’s  Google engine search that I have been doing annually since 2008.  This year, I found that approximately 186,000 WEB sites mention the word “puzzle ring.”  While the majority of the sites still described the puzzle ring using the “Turkish” adjective, the use of “Chinese” adjective to describe this ring comes in third place after “Celtic puzzle ring.”  In the decreasing frequency of order the adjective “Chinese” is followed by “Spanish,” “Greek,” “Irish,” “Iranian,” and “Russian.”  However, the Google engine appears to result in unreliable numbers that fluctuate from day-to-day.  For instance,  The number “55,000,” that I found for “Turkish puzzle ring,” may be “77,000” when I repeat the same search in Google in a few weeks later.  It is uncomforting to see that many of these sites may be here today and gone tomorrow.  The situation may be caused by internal inconsistencies of the Google as well.  Therefore,  I would probably repeat the Google search in longer intervals rather than on an annual basis.