Viking burial clothes woven with ‘Allah’ discovered in Sweden | Science

A Swedish university has discovered Arabic characters for “Allah” and “Ali” woven into Viking burial clothes. Researchers at Uppsala University describe the finding of the geometric Kufic characters in silver on woven bands of silk as “staggering”.

The researchers at Uppsala, Sweden’s oldest university, were re-examining clothes that had been in storage for some time. They had originally been found at Viking burial sites in Birka and Gamla Uppsala in Sweden. Textile archaeology researcher Annika Larsson told the BBC that at first she could not make sense of the symbols, but then, “I remembered where I had seen similar designs: in Spain, on Moorish textiles.”

Uppsala University
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#Viking Age script deciphered – mentions ‘Allah’ and ‘Ali’ https://t.co/zdkDy0BeRL pic.twitter.com/7wpUoWstR7


October 3, 2017

This led to the identification of the name “Ali” in the text and, when looked at in a mirror, the word “Allah” in reverse was revealed.

The meaning of the characters was revealed in a mirror

The meaning of the characters was revealed in a mirror. Photograph: Annika Larsson

“Perhaps this was an attempt to write prayers so that they could be read from left to right,” said Larsson. Arabic characters are more typically inscribed right to left. The finding contradicts theories that Islamic objects in Viking graves are only the result of plunder or trade because, she explained, “the inscriptions appear in typical Viking age clothing that have their counterparts in preserved images of Valkyries”.

Larsson said the choice of burial clothes reflected the fineries of Viking life rather than the day-to-day reality, in much the same way that in the modern era people are buried in formal clothes. “Presumably, Viking age burial customs were influenced by Islam and the idea of an eternal life in paradise after death.”

Viking contact with the Islamic world is a well-established fact. There have been finds of more than 100,000 Islamic silver coins known as dirhams in Viking-age Scandinavia. DNA analysis of Viking graves has also shown that some of them contain people who originated in Persia.

The Vale of York hoard, discovered near Harrogate in 2007, contained objects relating to three belief systems – Islam, Christianity and the worship of Thor – and at least seven different languages. And in March 2015 a Viking woman’s glass ring was discovered bearing the inscription “for Allah” or “to Allah”.

The Vale of York hoard, the most important Viking treasure find in the UK in 150 years.



The Vale of York hoard, the most important Viking treasure find in the UK in 150 years. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

The textile finds with the Arabic script are on display at Enköpings museum’s exhibition on Viking couture until February 2018.

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Cancer patients’ grey hair unexpectedly darkens in drug study | Science

A group of cancer patients’ grey hair has unexpectedly darkened after they took new types of drugs, researchers have revealed.

Chemotherapy is known to make patients’ hair fall out, but the 14 people involved were all being treated with new immunotherapy drugs that work differently and have different side effects from chemotherapy. A Spanish study suggests those may include restoring hair pigment, at least in patients with lung cancer.

Noelia Rivera, a dermatologist at Autonomous University of Barcelona, said they thought it could be an isolated case when it happened with the first patient. But the research team found the same thing when they asked other patients for photographs of themselves from before treatment.

The 14 people were among 52 patients with lung cancer being followed to see whether they developed bad side effects from the drugs — Keytruda, Opdivo and Tecentriq.

While most patients did not have a hair colour change, the 14 cases suggest it is not an isolated finding. In 13 patients, hair turned darkish brown or black; in one patient, it turned black in patches.

The same drugs have been linked previously with hair losing colour in patients with another cancer, melanoma.

All but one of the 14 patients in the Spanish study responded better to treatment than other patients, suggesting that hair darkening might be an indication that the drugs are working, the researchers said.

Rivera said they were continuing with the study to search for an explanation.

“It’s a fascinating report – one of those things that comes out of the blue,” said June Robinson, a Northwestern University research professor in dermatology. Robinson is also editor of the medical journal JAMA Dermatology, which published the study online this month.

She said the results deserved a deeper look but cautioned that it was too soon to suggest that they might lead to new treatments for unwanted grey hair.

Rivera noted that the drugs used in the study had serious side effects that made them unsafe for healthy people. But if it is confirmed that they do change hair colour, a different drug could be developed to treat grey hair, she said.

The pharmaceutical industry has previously capitalised on unexpected drug side effects. Examples include the male pattern baldness drug Propecia, the eyelash growing drug Latisse, and Botox anti-wrinkle injections. Active ingredients in these drugs were initially approved to treat enlarged prostates, eye pressure problems, and eye muscle spasms.

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