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Ring links Viking, Islamic civilizations: inscription, style and lack of wear point to ancient contact.

More than 100 years after its discovery in a ninth century woman's grave, an engraved ring has revealed evidence of close contacts between Viking Age Scandinavians and the Islamic world.

Excavators of a Viking trading center in Sweden called Birka recovered the silver ring in the late 1800s. Until now, it was thought that it featured a violet amethyst engraved with Arabic-looking characters. But closer inspection with a scanning electron microscope revealed that the presumed amethyst is colored glass (an exotic material at the time), say biophysicist Sebastian Warmlander of Stockholm University and his colleagues.

An inscription on the glass inset reads "for Allah" or "to Allah" in an ancient Arabic script, the researchers report online February 23 in Scanning.

Scandinavians traded for fancy glass objects from Egypt and Mesopotamia as early as 3,400 years ago (SN: 1/24/15, p. 8). Thus, seagoing Scandinavians could have acquired glass items from Islamic traders in the same part of the world more than 2,000 years later rather than waiting for such desirable pieces to move north through trade networks.

Ancient texts mention encounters around 1,000 years ago between Scandinavian and Islamic civilizations. However, archaeological evidence supporting those accounts is rare.

The inner surface of the Birka ring's silver body shows virtually no signs of wear. Filing marks made in the final stage of its production are still visible. That suggests that the ring, made by an Arabic silversmith, had few or no owners before the Viking woman, the researchers say.

The new study adds to previous evidence of extensive trade routes from the Islamic world through what's now western Russia to the Baltic Sea, then to Scandinavia, says Roman Kovalev, a historian of medieval Eurasian economics at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. Similar ninth and 10th century rings, some with Arabic inscriptions, have been found at Eastern European sites, he says, along with other luxury items.

Caption: A ninth century ring from a Viking site in Sweden may have come from the Islamic world. Its colored glass is engraved in Arabic.


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Title Annotation:HUMANS & SOCIETY
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 18, 2015
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