DNA From Medieval Skeletons Reveals Earliest Muslims In France

Nimes BurialArchaeologists have long known about Arab-Muslim expansion throughout the Mediterranean region in the Middle Ages. Reaching the Iberian Peninsula in 711 AD, Arab armies and Muslim troops spread into France, Spain, and Portugal. But while written records document this expansion, archaeological and burial evidence of early Muslims past the Pyrenees is basically non-existent. In a new study out today, a group of researchers has published the first DNA evidence of people from Muslim-style burials in Nîmes, France.

In order to date the burials, researchers radiocarbon dated five bone fragments, which gave them a tight range of the 7th-8th centuries AD. “These dates,” the authors note, “suggest that the remains are the earliest Medieval Muslim graves known in France,” predating other known Muslim graves by at least 400 years. But this early date fits with historical accounts of “Saracens” taking the city of Nîmes between 719 and 752 AD.

Based on DNA, archaeological evidence, and historical information, Gleize and colleagues posit that these individuals buried in Nîmes “were Berbers integrated into the [Umayyad] Arab army during its rapid expansion through North Africa.” But given the fact that Arab-Muslim expansion into Europe was prolonged and intense, it is a bit surprising that more graves of this type have not been found in the area. “Despite the low number of Muslim graves discovered,” they write, “we believe that these observations provide strong evidence for either the establishment of a garrison or a more long-term establishment of Muslim communities in Nîmes.” And since these North Africans were interred according to Islamic customs, it means the religious conversion of Berbers during the Arab Conquest was swift.

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Read the full article on the Early Medieval Muslim Graves:
Article Source: Early Medieval Muslim Graves in France: First Archaeological, Anthropological and Palaeogenomic Evidence
Gleize Y, Mendisco F, Pemonge MH, Hubert C, Groppi A, et al. (2016) Early Medieval Muslim Graves in France: First Archaeological, Anthropological and Palaeogenomic Evidence. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0148583. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148583

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