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Gandalf tipped Saruman off at the White Council in 2851, by encouraging an attack on Dol Guldur. Saruman overrules him and begins to search the Gladden Fields. In 2939 Sauron's servants are searching there too. At the White Council in 2941, Saruman agrees to attack, now wishing to prevent Sauron from searching the river.

At the last White Council meeting, 2953, he does lie about studying the One Ring and about where he thinks it might be, but he made the same claim in 2851, about the bones likely washing out to sea.

After the War, some of Isildur's belongings are found at Orthanc, so it becomes clear Saruman had found the remains, sans the One Ring. From Unfinished Tales - Part III, Chapter I: The Disaster of the Gladden Fields

Do we know when Saruman found Isildur's remains?

  • What evidence is there that Saruman found Isildur's remains? I don't see it anywhere in LotR or in the appendices. There are notes in the appendices: "2851: Gandalf urges an attack on Dol Guldur. Saruman overrules him. Saruman begins to search near the Gladden Fields." and "2939: Saruman discovers that Sauron's servants are searching the Anduin near Gladden Fields, and that Sauron therefore has learned of Isildur's end. He is alarmed, but says nothing to the Council." Neither says that Saurman found remains or artifacts. – Mark Olson Jan 25 at 1:23
  • @MarkOlson - I added the reference. – Wyrmwood Jan 25 at 1:51
  • 1
    Ah. He found them in an alternate timeline! – Mark Olson Jan 25 at 1:52
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Probably between 2851 and 2939, almost certainly before 2953

First, a couple of comments on the question.

  • Unfinished Tales doesn't say for certain that Saruman found Isildur's remains, only that the original Elendilmir and a chain that might have held the ring around Isildur's neck were found in Orthanc.

    In a casket on a high shelf two things were laid. One was a small case of gold, attached to a fine chain; it was empty, and bore no letter or token, but beyond all doubt it had once borne the Ring about Isildur’s neck. Next to it lay a treasure without price, long mourned as lost for ever: the Elendilmir itself, the white star of Elvish crystal upon a fillet of mithril that had descended from Silmarien to Elendil, and had been taken by him as the token of royalty in the North Kingdom.
    ...
    When men considered this secret hoard more closely, they were dismayed. For it seemed to them that these things, and certainly the Elendilmir, could not have been found, unless they had been upon Isildur’s body when he sank; but if that had been in deep water of strong flow they would in time have been swept far away. Therefore Isildur must have fallen not into the deep stream but into shallow water, no more than shoulder-high. Why then, though an Age had passed, were there no traces of his bones? Had Saruman found them, and scorned them – burned them with dishonour in one of his furnaces? If that were so, it was a shameful deed; but not his worst.
    Unfinished Tales Part Three, Chapter I: The Disaster of the Gladden Fields
    Pages 264-5 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2012 Kindle Edition)

  • As Mark Olson suggested in a comment, Tolkien changed his mind about several details over the years. Some of the details in Unfinished Tales had changed by the time that The Lord of the Rings was published.

Saruman began searching for the Ring in 2851.

2851 The White Council meets. Gandalf urges an attack on Dol Guldur. Saruman overrules him. Saruman begins to search near the Gladden Fields.
The Lord of the Rings Appendix B, Section 2: The Third Age
Page 1088 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

Saruman discovered that Sauron was searching near Gladden Fields in 2939, and agrees to the White Council attacking Dol Guldur in 2941:

2939 Saruman discovers that Sauron’s servants are searching the Anduin near Gladden Fields, and that Sauron therefore has learned of Isildur’s end. He is alarmed, but says nothing to the Council.

2941 Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf visit Bilbo in the Shire. Bilbo meets Sméagol-Gollum and finds the Ring. The White Council meets; Saruman agrees to an attack on Dol Guldur, since he now wishes to prevent Sauron from searching the River. Sauron having made his plans abandons Dol Guldur. The Battle of the Five Armies in Dale. Death of Thorin II. Bard of Esgaroth slays Smaug. Dáin of the Iron Hills becomes King under the Mountain (Dáin II).
The Lord of the Rings Appendix B, Section 2: The Third Age
Page 1089 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

The Tale of Years goes on to say that Saruman withdraws to Isengard in 2953.

2953 Last meeting of the White Council. They debate the Rings. Saruman feigns that he has discovered that the One Ring has passed down Anduin to the Sea. Saruman withdraws to Isengard, which he takes as his own, and fortifies it. Being jealous and afraid of Gandalf he sets spies to watch all his movements; and notes his interest in the Shire. He soon begins to keep agents in Bree and the Southfarthing.
The Lord of the Rings Appendix B, Section 2: The Third Age
Page 1089 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

The earliest date Saruman could have found Isildur's belongings would be 2851 (when he started searching for the Ring). We are not told when he found them or even when he stopped searching for the Ring. However, he must have found Isildur's belongings while he was still searching, and then may well have decided that the ring was no longer in the river (either taken or washed into the sea).

It is likely that he stopped searching at about the time that he became aware that Sauron was searching the same area. If not then, it would probably have been when he withdrew to Isengard.

  • 2
    UT does very strongly suggest that Saruman found Isildur's remains, and then suggests that Saruman must have burned them - this is simply a "story" way of telling us about something that happened which the 'author' as the mere 'chronicler' of actual events, could not have actually known about. – Shamshiel Jan 25 at 11:04
  • @Shamshiel I have added the paragraph from Unfinished Tales that mentions the speculation that Saruman may have found and disposed of Isildur's bones. – Blackwood Jan 25 at 12:55
  • Saruman can't have found the remains before 2941. Saruman finally submitted for he knew that Sauron was searching for the One Ring in the Anduin[2] and thrusting him from Dol Guldur would allow him to search freely.[1] [2]-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age" [1]- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" – Wyrmwood Jan 25 at 15:48
  • Saruman agrees to an attack on Dol Guldur, since he now wishes to prevent Sauron from searching the River - Why would he wish to prevent Sauron from searching if he had already found them? – Wyrmwood Jan 25 at 15:50
  • Unless you are suggesting that he may have found the remains, but not the One Ring and so was still searching there? – Wyrmwood Jan 25 at 15:50

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