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 Scandanavia’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.
Sustainable urbanisation requires collaboration
10 juni 2019
On Sunday, 30 June, six seminars on sustainability and urbanisation focusing on India and Sweden will take place in Almedalen. To find out more, we talked to Swaminathan Ramanathan, visiting research fellow, and Owe Ronström, professor of ethnolog...
Races for women play an important role
06 maj 2019
Participating in a race for women plays an important role for women and increases self-confidence among participants. Women aim to perform as well as they can, and they place most emphasis on their physical performance, despite the organisers’ oft...
Award for research and teaching on the Holocaust
11 april 2019
Tomislav Dulić, Senior Lecturer in History and Director of the Hugo Valentin Centre, has been awarded the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Award 2019.
Diplomatic wives’ political clout often overlooked
07 mars 2019
Many 20th-century accounts of international relations and diplomacy often leave out the role of women. Diplomats’ wives were not officially employed, but diplomacy was frequently based on couples working together.
Ola Larsmo awarded Martin Henriksson Holmdahl Prize
16 november 2018
The Martin Henriksson Holmdahl Prize is Uppsala University’s foremost award for efforts to promote human rights and liberty. This year’s prize is awarded to author and honorary doctor Ola Larsmo.
New light cast on Scandinavia’s most important Bronze Age site
09 oktober 2018
Håga, Scandinavia's most significant Bronze Age site, is relatively unknown. But in a new book, archaeologists at Uppsala University have brought together what is known and placed Håga in a larger context.
New study shows virus traces in historical skeletal material
06 september 2018
A new international study shows the importance of studying historical skeletal material to increase knowledge about how viruses develop.
Large-scale whaling in north Scandinavia may date back to 6th century
13 juni 2018
The intensive whaling that has pushed many species to the brink of extinction today may be several centuries older than previously assumed. This view is held by archaeologists from Uppsala and York whose findings are presented in the European Jour...
Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson to receive King’s Medal
08 juni 2018
H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf has decided to award Uppsala University’s Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson and Johan Svedjedal, Professor of Literature, H.M. The King’s Medal.
This year’s Distinguished Teaching Award winners chosen
04 juni 2018
The 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award winners at Uppsala University teach subjects related to art history, informatics and media, pharmaceutical biosciences and information technology. The free Distinguished Teaching Award was presented to Senior ...
Human diversity as a research area
29 maj 2018
Human diversity abounds in language, culture and biology. An understanding of this diversity is central to a lot of research, but it is important to address the ethical issues raised by this research. The Human Diversity Research Network takes an ...
Shared meals important for wellbeing
29 maj 2018
How, where and when we eat are key issues for human health and wellbeing. A multidisciplinary research network at Uppsala University aims to deepen knowledge about the significance of meals.
Is citizenship necessary for being part of a democracy?
26 april 2018
Nowadays, civil rights are usually connected with citizenship of a country. But how do growing globalisation and more mobility affect this?
Mobilising for research on higher education
26 april 2018
Remarkably little research is conducted on higher education in Sweden, but a large share of existing research on the subject is at Uppsala University. Through a research network for research on higher education, researchers are now mobilising to d...
Two Uppsala researchers elected at American Academy
25 april 2018
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences recently elected new members. Two Uppsala researchers were elected as international honorary members.
The Well-Laden Ship: Viking exhibition soon to reach America
11 april 2018
In late April, a ship will reach New York bringing the exhibition “The Vikings Begin” which will embark on a two-year tour of the US. On display will be a selection of 1,300-year-old items from the pre-Viking Age. Usually in storage at Gustavianum...
Art historian receives award from Vitterhetsakademien
09 april 2018
Every year, Vitterhetsakademien (The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities) confers prizes for outstanding scholarly achievements. PhD Hedvig Mårdh at Uppsala University was one of the 2017 prizewinners.
New Oscar Prize winners announced
21 december 2017
Uppsala University’s Oscar Prize for young researchers has been awarded to Eric Cullhed, Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Linguistics and Philology and Oskar Karlsson, Doctor of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences.
New thesis on 21st-century Swedish crime fiction: A Market of Murders
20 december 2017
Why have Swedish detective stories become so immensely popular in our century? What murder motives and weapons are most common in the genre, and why? And is it true that Swedish crime fiction is characterised by social criticism? A new thesis from...
Collaboration for new knowledge in culture and society
09 december 2017
Uppsala University is aiming to develop new research collaborations spanning different research subjects. The newly created Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society at the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences will fac...