Exhibition: Viking Age patterns may be Kufic script
3 October 2017
What was previously thought to be typical Viking Age, silver patterns on woven silk bands, could in fact be geometric Kufic characters. As part of an exhibition at the Enköping Museum, ongoing research is presented where a textile archaeological analysis suggests that both Allah and Ali are invoked in the pattern of the bands.
The Arabic characters appear on woven bands of silk in burial costumes found in Viking Age boatgraves, as well as in the chamber graves clothing of central Viking Age sites such as Birka in Swedish Mälardalen.
“One exciting detail is that the word ‘Allah’ is depicted in mirror image,” says Annika Larsson, researcher in textile archaeology at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University.
“It is a staggering thought that the bands, just like the costumes, were made west of the Muslim heartland. Perhaps this was an attempt to write prayers so that they could be read from left to right, but with the Arabic characters they should have. That we so often maintain that Eastern objects in Viking Age graves could only be the result of plundering and eastward trade doesn’t hold up as an explanatory model because the inscriptions appear in typical Viking Age clothing that have their counterparts in preserved images of Valkyries.”
Viking Age burials influenced by Islam
It was while working to recreate textile patterns for the Viking Couture exhibit at Enköping Museum, Enköping, Sweden, that the researchers discovered that the woven bands contained ancient Arabic script, Kufic characters, invoking both Allah and Ali. The Kufic characters were found in the Viking Age in mosaics on burial monuments and mausoleums, primarily in Central Asia. Similar Kufic characters appear in the grave costumes in Viking Age chamber graves in central sites such as Birka in Mälardalen, as well as in boatgraves in the area around Gamla Uppsala.
“Presumably, Viking Age burial customs were influenced by Islam and the idea of an eternal life in Paradise after death,” says Larsson. “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.”
In her earlier research, Annika Larsson has emphasised the widespread occurrence of Eastern silk in Scandinavia’s Viking Age graves. In the Valsgärde boat graves, just north of the key Early Iron Age site Gamla Uppsala, findings of silk in the clothing of those buried are far greater than findings of wool and linen. Analyses of materials, weaving techniques and design suggest ancient Persian and Central Asian origin.
“In the Quran, it is written that the inhabitants of Paradise will wear garments of silk, which along with the text band’s inscriptions may explain the widespread occurrence of silk in Viking Age graves,” says Annika Larsson. “The findings are equally prevalent in both men’s and women’s graves.”
Presented in Viking Couture exhibition
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, which is conducting a pilot project aimed at presenting new research in the form of exhibitions. The project uses research methods other than the usual theoretical, because the results are intended to reach a wider audience than just academics. Exhibitions are largely based on visual communication, and one method for this is recreation processes, such as that of the textile bands.
The textile archaeological project group also includes textile master student, Karolina Pallin, who has recreated the woven bands for the exhibition.
These findings are preliminary results of an ongoing study which will be peer reviewed and published at a later date. In an integrated sub-project, DNA analyses are performed on human remains from relevant graves, in collaboration with Professor Marie Allen and her research team at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology at Uppsala University. It is hoped that the sensitive DNA analysis methods will help provide answers to questions on kinship and geographic origin.
The exhibition texts are also displayed in Arabic.
Edited 19 & 20 October 2017 to clarify that these are preliminary results, to be presented as an exhibition. Heading and lead edited 27 October for clarity.
See also: Comment regarding criticism of this press release
Mandelgren Prize to Michael Neiß
13 april 2017
Svenska fornminnesföreningen (the Antiquarian Society of Sweden) has decided to award PhD student and archaeologist Michael Neiß the 2017 Mandelgren Prize for his research on Scandinavian animal art.
Archaeologists at the vanguard of environmental and climate research
26 februari 2017
The history of people and landscapes, whether natural or cultural, is fundamentally connected. Answering key historical questions about this relation will allow us to approach our most important environmental issues in novel ways. Today in the ope...
New database of Swedish archaeological research in Greece
09 januari 2017
In a recently completed project at the Swedish Institute in Athens, materials from more than a hundred years of Swedish archaeological research in Greece has been made available through the database PRAGMATA. The database includes, among other thi...
Bokrelease - Vicke Lindstrand On The Periphery
18 november 2016
Den australiensiske designhistorikern Mark Ian Jones lanserar sin nya bok Vicke Lindstrand On The Periphery. Detta är den första engelskspråkiga publikationen som beskriver Vicke Lindstrands liv och verk.
Digitisation of cultural heritage discussed at AIMday
03 november 2016
Cultural heritage has become a field of great importance for the development of modern society. Modern technology creates new opportunities for communicating and presenting cultural heritage, as well as making it accessible. The potential and chal...
Archaeologist appointed new honorary doctor
05 oktober 2016
Archaeologist Jeremy B. Rutter, Professor Emeritus at Dartmouth College, USA, has been appointed a new honorary doctor at the Faculty of Arts.
SEK 5 million grant to art project
27 september 2016
The Swedish Research Council has selected seven art research projects to receive grants, out of a total of 51 applications. One of the grants is awarded to Katarina Pirak Sikku and the Uppsala University Centre for Gender Studies.
Augmented reality app presents Old Uppsala in a new way
24 augusti 2016
In Old Uppsala lie the remains of one of Scandinavia’s most fascinating royal estates from the Iron Age. Once there were numerous houses and other buildings here, which visitors up until now have had to imagine from sketches. A new app called ‘Aug...
Innovative games win prizes at the Swedish Game Awards
20 juni 2016
Game Design students from Uppsala University Campus Gotland won half of the prizes at the Swedish Game Awards on 11 June.
Major international meeting on cultural heritage held
16 april 2016
Uppsala University’s Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson and Professor of Building Conservation Tor Broström at Campus Gotland participated in a large international conference on cultural heritage and cultural preservation at Yale University in mid-April....
New book documents terrorism from Shakespeare's time
02 december 2015
There was no word for terrorism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but outbreaks of terrorist violence were frequent. In his new book on terrorism in history and literature, Uppsala University Professor of English Literature, Robert Appel...
Heléne Lööw to be awarded the Martin H:son Holmdahl Scholarship
10 november 2015
The Martin H:son Holmdahl Scholarship is Uppsala University’s most prestigious award for the furthering of human rights and liberty. This year, the award is being given to docent Heléne Lööw at the Department of History for her important contribut...
Faculty of Arts awards honorary doctorates
02 oktober 2015
Robert Darnton, Professor Emeritus and previously university librarian at Harvard, and Hiroshi Maruyama, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Muroran Institute of Technology, Japan, have been made honorary doctors by the Faculty of Arts, Uppsala Uni...
Uppsala University recruits Professor Don Kulick
27 januari 2015
The internationally recognised anthropologist Professor Don Kulick is being recruited by Uppsala University. He will lead a broad, multidisciplinary research programme funded by the Swedish Research Council which will allow us to better understand...