“Allah” and “Ali”patterns discovered in Viking graves in Sweden

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden have discovered Viking-era burial costumes in graves with the words “Allah” and “Ali” written on them.

The Vikings could have been influenced by Islam and “the idea of an eternal life in paradise after death,” Annika Larsson, a researcher in textile archaeology at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University, told Anadolu Agency.

The words, which appear in Kufic characters of the ancient Arabic script, were found in silk costumes in boat-graves as well as in chamber graves in the historic Viking city of Birka.

Larsson referred to Islam’s central religious text, the Quran, where it is written that inhabitants of Paradise will wear garments of silk, venturing that it may explain the widespread occurrence of silk among Vikings. According to Larsson, the mirrored Kufic letters may have been an attempt to write prayers in a way allowing the Arabic characters to be read from left to right, which was more habitual to the Northerners.

In the past, historians, archaeologists and other researchers have often crossed swords with each other trying to produce a more varied and nuanced picture of the people that formed Viking culture in Scandinavia. After the word Allah was found depicted in mirror image on a burial cloth, the debate on the ways and habits of the Vikings was immediately re-kindled.

“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,” she ventured.

Larsson suggested that simply attributing the “Eastern” objects to a result of plundering and eastward trade doesn’t hold water, as the inscriptions appear in typical Viking Age clothing used far away from the Muslim heartland.

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Larsson’s research findings are presented as part of the Viking Couture exhibition at Enköping Museum. The project is funded by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences.

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