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Arabic Words Detected in Viking Silk Garments

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Viking Arabic wordsUPPSALA, SWEDEN—According to a report in BBC News, textile archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University found Arabic words woven into tiny geometric designs on garments made from imported silk recovered from Viking graves in Birka and Gamla Uppsala more than 100 years ago. Larsson said she had not previously encountered designs similar to the ones embroidered on the garments in Sweden. “I couldn’t quite make sense of them and then I remembered where I had seen similar designs—in Spain, on Moorish textiles,” she recalled. Looking at the designs under magnification and at different angles, Larsson spotted the word “Ali,” the name of the fourth caliph of Islam and cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, written in Arabic Kufic script, along with the word “Allah,” written in mirrored lettering, in at least 10 of the 100 pieces of clothing she has examined. Islamic ideas of an afterlife may have influenced Viking-age burial customs, Larsson explained, though “the possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out,” she said. Scientists will now try to establish the origins of the people who were buried in the graves. To read about a gem engraved with the word “Allah” found in a Viking woman's grave, go to “One Ring to Bind Them.”

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