‘Allah’ is found on Viking funeral clothes

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.

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Vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle discovered in Cambodia

The Guardian reports: Archaeologists in Cambodia have found multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, the Guardian can reveal, in groundbreaking discoveries that promise to upend key assumptions about south-east Asia’s history.

The Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Monday, will announce that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology has revealed multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old beneath the tropical forest floor, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Some experts believe that the recently analysed data – captured in 2015 during the most extensive airborne study ever undertaken by an archaeological project, covering 734 sq miles (1,901 sq km) – shows that the colossal, densely populated cities would have constituted the largest empire on earth at the time of its peak in the 12th century.

Evans said: “We have entire cities discovered beneath the forest that no one knew were there – at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay and, it turns out, we uncovered only a part of Mahendraparvata on Phnom Kulen [in the 2012 survey] … this time we got the whole deal and it’s big, the size of Phnom Penh big.” [Continue reading…]

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America’s power has already been eclipsed in Asia

As many a conservative American commentator remains obsessed with the question as to how the United States can retain its position as the world’s preeminent power, Pankaj Mishra indicates why that question is already moot: it is a position America has already lost.

He points out:

India has many more likely and rewarding partners in booming Asia than in the recession-hit west. Politically damaged Thailand as well as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan have recovered from the downturn. Last year India signed a major free-trade deal with Asean. Not surprisingly a columnist in the Star, Malaysia’s leading newspaper in English, deemed the Indian prime minister’s visit to Kuala Lumpur last week more important than the jaunt of Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, to the region at the same time.

A tangle of bilateral trade agreements underpins Asia’s new economic unity. China and Asean countries already constitute the biggest free-trade zone in the world. Asian fears of China’s rise, which the United States keenly monitors, look minor beside the fact that China is now the largest export market for Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, in addition to being India’s biggest trading partner.

All this sounds a planet away from those Tea-Partying Americans who think that the US can bomb its way out of any political and economic difficulties abroad. It now falls to Obama to advance their education; and he’ll most likely fail in this thankless task.

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