Thursday, 19 March 2015

All the Viking ladies, put your hands up

Ring discovery connects Norse and Islamic cultures 

When you think about Scandinavian Vikings, what comes to mind? Bearded seafarers? Sure. Horned helmets? Absolutely. Islamic civilization? Not so much. 

But an enchanting ring found in a ninth century Viking grave offers evidence that these two seemingly disparate civilizations were actually in close contact

The breathtaking purple ring was first excavated in the late 1800s from Birka, a Viking trading center in Sweden, according to a recent Science News article. The ring's mesmerizing centerpiece was always thought to be a violet amethyst. But when archaeologists at Stockholm University conducted an electron microscope scan, they discovered that it is in fact made of colored glass, a highly desirable, and exotic material at the time. The scan also revealed an unexpected inscription on the glass inset which reads either "for Allah" or "to Allah" in ancient Arabic script. 

So how did this Islamic jewelry end up on the finger of a Viking a world away? Scandinavians were known to trade prized objects from Egypt and Mesopotamia as long as 3,400 years ago. So archaeologists theorize it's not unlikely that the Vikings could have obtained glass treasures from Islamic traders in the same part of the globe about 2,000 years later, rather waiting for these goods to travel north through popular trade networks. 

While there are encounters between these two civilizations mentioned in ancient texts about 1,000 years ago, substantial archaeological evidence in support of these accounts is quite rare. 

What's more, researchers at Stockholm University say the ring shows almost no signs of wear. This suggests it was made by an Arabic silversmith and had no prior owners before reaching the Viking woman. 

Into Vikings? Enjoy these complimentary articles from European Journal of Archaeology

‘A River of Knives and Swords’: Ritually Deposited Weapons in English Watercourses and Wetlands during the Viking Age

Bloody Slaughter: Ritual Decapitation and Display at the Viking Settlement of Hofstadir Iceland

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