Archaeologists believe they have Found the first evidence of Muslim communities in the south of France, as skeleton remains from the 7th century show similar characteristic to Islamic burial practices.
The three skeletons were Discovered to be facing Mecca, have paternal lineage to North Africa, and have been dated to the same period that it is believed Muslim presence was first identified in the region.
Research published in PLOS ONE, focusses on a medieval burial site in Nimes, south of France, demonstrating three individuals that the scientists believe were part of the Berbers – a North African ethnic group.
If so, this will be the earliest indication of Muslim establishment, right around 600 years earlier than the previously known communities.
The rapid Arab-Islamic conquest amid the early Middle Ages led to major political and cultural changes in the Mediterranean.
Although the early medieval Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula is well documented, researchers have less evidence of the Muslim expansion north of the Pyrenees.
The authors of this investigation aimed to determine if the skeletons in three graves from a medieval site at Nimes, France are related to the Muslim presence in France in the eighth century.
Specifically, they investigated the funerary practices at the site, analyzed the skeleton’s DNA, and determined the sex and age of the skeletons.
“Using a multidisciplinary approach that combines history, archaeology, anthropology and palaeogenomics, we discuss the first early medieval Muslim graves found in an area north of the Pyrenees,” the researchers write.
“These results clearly highlight the complexity of the relationship between communities during this period, far from the cliché depiction still found in some history books.”
The analysts began excavating the burial sites in 2006, and identified 20 Peoples graves in the medieval town of Nimes.
They quickly noticed differences with three of these individuals, who seemed to be lying on their side, all pointing one particular direction.
DNA examination of these individuals determined their sex and age – all male and all older than 20 years old.
The DNA itself was obtained by extracting teeth of the Peoples, and grounding them into a fine powder.
The DNA indicated strong links to North Africa, most likely south-west Morocco, or Western Sahara.
Carbon dating of the bones also demonstrated that the remains had been buried between the seventh and 9th century’s – the same time that literature suggests Berber’s began to be documented in and around Nimes – north of Montpellier.
After that acknowledgment, it did not take long for the researchers to realise that the skeletons were pointing south east toward Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
“Since the data support a North African paternal ancestry of the three individuals from the graves, we believe that they were Berbers integrated into the Arab army during its quick expansion through North Africa,” the authors say.
“We suggest that the graves discussed in this study can provide further insight into the nature of this Muslim presence.”