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Researchers have found the word 'Allah' woven into Viking burial clothes, raising a number of questions about the relationship between Islam and the Vikings.
The fascinating new discovery was by textile archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University and her team when they were looking at funeral clothes dating back to the ninth and 10th century.
Credit: Annika Larsson/Uppsala University
They found the words 'Allah' and 'Ali' woven into the clothes, which were originally found excavated in Birka and Gamla Uppsala in Sweden in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries.
Speaking to the BBC, Larsson said that the cloth originated from China, central Asia and Persia. She wanted to find out more about the items, when she realised the tiny geometric patterns on the garments were not Scandinavian designs, and later discovered they were ancient Arabic Kufic script.
She said: "The possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out. We know from other Viking tomb excavations that some of the people buried in them originated from places like Persia, where Islam was very dominant.
"However, 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."
A Viking burial ground in Norway. Credit: PA
In a statement on the University's website, she continued: "Grave goods such as beautiful clothing, finely sewn in exotic fabrics, hardly reflect the deceased's everyday life, just as little as the formal attire of our era reflects our own daily lives. The rich material of grave goods should rather be seen as tangible expressions of underlying values."
Larrsson was able to crack the mystery of the designs by enlarging all the patterns and looking at them from all angles - and eventually saw that the world 'Allah' had been written in 'mirrored lettering'.
She is now convinced that other items from the Viking era may have similar Islamic inscriptions.
She told the BBC: "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.
"Who knows? Maybe they appear in non-textile artefacts too."
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