More than a century 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 Wärmländer of Stockholm University and his colleagues.
An inscription on the glass inset reads either “for Allah” or “to Allah” in an ancient Arabic script, the researchers report 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.