Ring Links Vikings to Ancient Islam

Colored-glass ring is inscribed with either 'to Allah' or 'for Allah'
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2015 5:30 PM CDT
Recovered from a Viking grave in the 1800s, this ring displays text in ancient Arabic script.   (Christer ?hlin/The Swedish History Museum)
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(Newser) – Those Vikings really got around: Not only did they land in North America long before 1492, they may have visited the Islamic world as well. As possible evidence, researchers say a ring from a ninth-century Viking woman's grave looks exceptionally Islamic, Science News reports. The silver ring was first recovered in the Swedish Viking trading center of Birka in the late 19th century, and seemed to feature Arabic-style writing on a violet amethyst. Now a report in the journal Scanning says the amethyst is really colored glass—an exotic material at one time—inscribed in an old Arabic script with either "to Allah" or "for Allah." Earlier finds suggested trade routes between modern-day Denmark, Egypt, and Mesopotamia going back 3,400 years, Science News notes, but this ring implies that one people actually visited the other.

How so? Analysis shows little wear on the ring, meaning it was "likely passed from the silversmith to the woman buried at Birka with few owners in between," the report says. And the direct-contact theory is supported by ancient texts that refer to Scandinavians encountering people from Islamic civilization about 1,000 years ago; archaeological evidence of those meetings, however, has been scarce. "Being the only ring with an Arabic inscription found at a Scandinavian archaeological site, it is a unique object among Swedish Viking Age material," the report says. Researchers at Stockholm University made headway on the case by scanning the ring with an electron microscope and revealing that the supposed amethyst was in fact colored glass, 9 News reports. (Meanwhile, Iceland is building its first Nordic temple in 1,000 years.)

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