The New York Times reports: The discovery of Arabic characters that spell “Allah” and “Ali” on Viking funeral costumes in boat graves in Sweden has raised questions about the influence of Islam in Scandinavia.
The grave where the costumes were found belonged to a woman dressed in silk burial clothes and was excavated from a field in Gamla Uppsala, north of Stockholm, in the 1970s, but its contents were not cataloged until a few years ago, Annika Larsson, a textile archaeologist at Uppsala University, said on Friday.
Among the contents unearthed: a necklace with a figurine; two coins from Baghdad; and the bones of a rooster and a large dog.
Dr. Larsson discovered the Arabic characters in February, as she was preparing some of the items for an exhibition on Viking couture in Enkoping, Sweden. She had been trying to recreate textile patterns for the exhibits — by comparing motifs on the burial dress with a silk band found around the head of a skeleton in a Viking grave at Birka, Sweden — when she discovered Kufic characters of Arabic. [Continue reading…]
Although Europe is referred to as a continent, we should always remember that as a topographical entity it is actually — as described by the Oxford archeologist, Barry Cunliffe — “the westerly excrescence of the continent of Asia.”
In other words, the separation between Europe and the lands and cultures surrounding it is a construct that resides solely inside people’s minds. Inside this cognitive space, it has periodically taken on a rigidity that obscures both geography and history.
While evidence of the influence of Islam across Europe might alarm some contemporary nativist Europeans whose cultural identity is only skin-deep, the location of the artifacts in question hardly seems surprising. What they reveal is open to question — their arrival might simply be the result of trade in goods. Yet intermixing is and always has been an engine that enriches cultural development.