Researchers Discover ‘Allah’ Inscribed in Vikings Burial Costumes
Researchers from Sweden have discovered that Vikings had “Allah” and “Ali” embroidered into their funeral clothes, raising questions about the ties between the Islamic world and the Viking-era Scandinavians. Does that indicate that some Vikings had converted to Islam?
Swedish Archaeologist Noticed the words “Allah” and “Ali” on Viking Clothing
BBC News reports that Arabic characters spelling the words "Allah" and "Ali" have been discovered on the burial costumes from Viking boat graves that had been kept in storage for over a hundred years. The silk patterns were initially believed to be common Viking Age decoration, but a re-examination by archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University revealed they were a geometric Kufic script. Larsson’s interest and curiosity was stimulated by the forgotten fragments after realizing the material had come from central Asia, Persia and China. "I couldn't quite make sense of them and then I remembered where I had seen similar designs - in Spain, on Moorish textiles," she told BBC News .
Textiles when examined closely revealed Kufic characters (Image: Annika Larsson )
Larsson soon noticed that there were two particular words that kept appearing repeatedly. She identified the name "Ali" with the help of an Iranian colleague, but it wasn’t as easy for them to decipher the word next to Ali. To decode the second word, Larsson enlarged the letters and examined them from all angles, including from behind, "I suddenly saw that the word 'Allah' [God] had been written in mirrored lettering," she told BBC News . Larsson also said that she has so far found the names on at least ten of the nearly 100 pieces she is working through, and they always appear together.
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Reproduction of a medieval mosaic in Kufic script from Isfahan, Iran. ( Public Domain )
Why these Viking burial clothes had inscriptions to Allah and Ali?
The presence of Islamic artifacts at Viking sites was once explained as evidence of looting and trade, but new finds continue to uncover closer ties between the two cultures. Experts suggest that the latest finding clearly shows similarities between the Viking and Muslim view of the afterlife. "This is a very important discovery because it tells us we can't view this historical period as 'typically Nordic'," Larsson told The Local . And added "It shows us that the Vikings were in close contact with other cultures, including with the Islamic world."
Furthermore, Larsson doesn’t dismiss the idea that some of these tombs could possibly belong to Muslims, “The possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out. We know from other Viking tomb excavations that DNA analysis has shown some of the people buried in them originated from places like Persia, where Islam was very dominant,” she tells BBC News . However, she doesn’t believe that Vikings converted to Islam, but instead they were only influenced by Islamic ideas when it came to burial customs, “It is more likely these findings show that Viking age burial customs were influenced by Islamic ideas such as eternal life in paradise after death," Larsson added.
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In 2015 archaeologists examined a ninth century ring from a Viking grave with ‘For Allah’ engraved on the colored glass stone. It came directly from the Seljuk culture of Asia Minor. (Photo by Christer Åhlin/The Swedish History Museum)
More Viking Artifacts with Arabic Influence
This is not the first time archaeologists have noticed a link between Vikings and Muslims. Two years ago, researchers re-examined a silver ring from a Viking-era grave in Birka, Sweden, and found the phrase "for Allah" inscribed in Kufic Arabic on the stone. As reported in a previous Ancient Origins article , that was the first ring with Arabic inscription from that era to be found in Scandinavia. The woman’s grave dated back to about 850 AD and also included items from India, the Caucasus or Yemen and possibly other locations. Archaeologists suggested that the ring may be a signet ring that was used to mark or stamp documents. The rare jewel was described by archaeologists as physical evidence that clearly indicates direct contact between the Vikings of Sweden and the Muslim world – in that case possibly Asia Minor.
Recent Discovery Could Provide Further Information
Back to 2017 and Larsson’s recent discovery, the Swedish archaeologist is being optimistic that the new find could offer a lot of information in the near future. “Now that I am looking at Viking patterns differently, I am convinced I will find more Islamic inscriptions in the remaining fragments from these excavations, and other Viking era textiles,” she tells BBC News . And adds, "Who knows? Maybe they appear in non-textile artefacts too." Ultimately, Larsson noted that she and her research team are currently working with the university's department for immunology, genetics and pathology in order to discover the geographic origins of the bodies dressed in the funeral clothes.
Top image: One of the woven silk bands. Image: Annika Larsson