An excavation in Sweden done in the late 1800s turned up an Arabic-style ring from the Viking Age (A.D. 793-1066) that researchers have finally been able to analyze and determine it originated in the Middle East.
An 1872-1895 excavation in Birka, Sweden, a trading city on an island about 25 kilometers, or about 15 miles, west of Stockholm yielded many discoveries, one of which was an Arabic-style finger ring. The find was housed at Stockholm's Swedish History Museum but a proper technical analysis of the ring has not been carried out yet. A replica of ring was made and researchers finally got the chance to examine it up-close using nondestructive methods such as SEM (scanning electron microscopy) imaging and EDS (energy-dispersive spectroscopy) analysis.
The ring was found in a grave dating from the 9th century. In a wooden coffin, it was discovered alongside brooches, a pair of scissors and some clothing. The remains in the grave have disintegrated but, based on the items left behind, it is believed that the owner is a woman. The ring itself is normal-sized and made out of white metal set with a pink or violet stone. An Arabic inscription is found on the stone as well.
Based on the examination, the ring is made from high-grade silver alloy. It has been previously thought to be set with an amethyst but results reveal the stone is simply colored glass. On it, inscribed in Arabic Kufic writing, is "il-la-lah" or "For/to Allah." Post-casting marks are still on it as well, meaning the ring did not pass through many hands from the silversmith to the woman in the grave. This finding also provides proof that Vikings in Scandinavia and the members of the Islamic world directly interacted with each other.
While the examination of the ring offered clarifications, it also opened up questions, like does the lack of expensive materials reduce the its historic value? To the researchers, not at all. The importance of the ring, after all, is rooted in its association with the Islamic world and not its material composition. At the same time, researchers pointed out that colored glass may be perceived as a material of low value today but that was not be the case in the past. Glass back then was a prestigious material that was imported.
"The importance of the studied Birka ring is that it most eloquently corroborates ancient tales about direct contacts between Viking Age Scandinavia and the Islamic world. The material analysis conducted here therefore not only improves our understanding of the finger ring itself, but also helps to advance our knowledge of the historic period from which it came to us," concluded the researchers.
"During the Viking Age rings with Arabic writing are rather uncommon in Europe, and only a handful have so far been encountered," the authors note. "The Birka ring is the only one found in Scandinavia, and because of its engraving, it has often been interpreted as a signet ring."
The results of the examination were detailed in a study published in the journal Scanning. Authors include: Michael Neiß, Saied A. Hamid Hassan, Khodadad Rezakhani, Ragnar Saage, Linda Wåhlander and Sebastian K.T.S. Wärmländer.