The ring is made of silver alloy, with a pink-violet cut glass stone. It was found by famed Swedish archaeologist Hjalmar Stolpe during the 1872-1895 excavations of grave fields in the Viking era trading center of Birka, about 15.5 miles west of Stockholm, Sweden.
The ring was catalogued and sent to the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, described as a “signet ring consisting of gilded silver set with an amethyst inscribed with the word “Allah” in Arabic Kufic writing.”
The ring was discovered in a rectangular wooden coffin. It was evident it was the coffin of a woman, even though the skeleton was completely decomposed. Archaeologists found jewelry, brooches, the remains of some clothing, and the ring. At the time, it was presumed the ring, the only one of its kind ever found in Scandinavia, had come to Birka through trading.
Now, biophysicist Sebastian Wärmländer of Stockholm University and his colleagues have confirmed how unique the ring was. They recount in a paper published in the journal Scanning, how they used a scanning electron microscope to investigate the origins of the ring.
The first thing the researchers discovered was that the stone was made of cut glass, rather than amethyst, as previously thought. Because cut glass was unknown in Scandinavia, it was highly prized. Studying the inscription on the stone, the researchers interpreted the inscription as “il-la-lah,” meaning “For/To Allah.”
The ring itself was made of a high-grade silver alloy (94.5 percent) and still had the post-casting marks. It was obvious the ring had rarely been worn and had only had the one owner, more than likely passed from the silversmith to the woman. The researchers write: “it is not impossible that the woman herself or someone close to her, might have visited — or even originate from — the Caliphate or its surrounding regions.”
Viking expeditions included women too
Wärmländer notes, “The Viking Sagas and Chronicles tell us of Viking expeditions to the Black and Caspian Seas, and beyond, but we don’t know what is fact and what is fiction in these stories. Perhaps the woman herself was from the Islamic world, or perhaps a Swedish Viking got the ring, by trade or robbery while visiting the Islamic Caliphate.”
With these early accounts of Vikings expeditions, it is very likely they had interactions with the Islamic world. By the 11th century, they were well known for their lengthy voyages, reaching the Americas, and possibly as far as Baghdad. Accounts from this period suggest the Vikings were more interested in trade rather than conquest. Farhat Hussain, a historian, told the National newspaper of Abu Dhabi in 2008, “The Vikings were very interested in silver, not so much in gold. It was a status symbol for Viking men and women, they even wanted to be buried with silver.”