Being a good jewelry historian takes time and research. There are always improvements and changes in the current technology that we use to discover the past of a particular piece of jewelry. It’s a hunt for the truth. One may never find it, but the journey is challenging and fun for me. In this article from JCK, you will find the latest in Viking jewelry connections. KLH

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This ring was found in a Viking-era woman’s grave has proved to be a rare link between ninth-century Scandinavians and the Islamic world.

The silver ring features a violet stone, long thought to be amethyst. Stockholm University researchers recently reexamined the ring using an electron microscope and found that the stone was colored glass and that it was inscribed with Arabic Kufic writing that said “for/to Allah.” Glass was an exotic material in Scandinavia, though it had been used in the Middle East and North Africa for thousands of years.

The researchers caution that though a ring made with such less expensive materials today might be dismissed as a cheap “fake,” this would not necessarily have been the case in the Viking world. People in the Middle East and North Africa had been producing glass for thousands of years by that time, but it would have still been an exotic material in ancient Scandinavia. 

As the surface displayed no wear, and the original file marks (thought to be from the casting process) can still be seen, the researchers concluded that the ring probably passed from an Arab silversmith to the woman in the grave with very few owners in between. They compared its condition favorably with that of imported coins (mostly from Afghanistan) also found in the grave, which were “worn and torn” from passing through so many hands. Because of this, the researchers speculate that the woman, or someone close to her, might have visited or even originated from the Caliphate, the Muslim empire that at the time dominated the Middle East and North Africa.

Credit: Statens historiska museum / Christer Åhlin
Credit: Statens historiska museum / Christer Åhlin

Though the woman in the grave was attired in traditional Scandinavian clothing, the decomposed state of her bones makes it impossible to determine her ethnicity, the researchers say. In the end, we may never know exactly how the woman and her ring fit into the story of how Vikings interacted with the Muslim world–but its presence in her grave confirms that they definitely did.

There is written evidence of the Vikings traveling to Constantinople and Baghdad, writes This  Pruitt at History.com, but little physical evidence of the relationship has been unearthed. This little ring goes a long way toward validating those writings.

“The ring has rarely been worn, and likely passed from the silversmith to the woman buried at Birka with few owners in between,” wrote researchers. “The ring may therefore constitute material evidence for direct interactions between Viking Age Scandinavia and the Islamic world.”