Did Islam reach France 1,300 years ago? DNA and burial rituals reveals Medieval skeletons were Muslims, suggesting the faith spread further than previously thought

  • Three skeletons were found in Nimes, France orientated towards Mecca
  • Genetic testing revealed the skeletons had been North African Berbers
  • It is thought they had converted and integrated into the Muslim Arab army
  • The findings are the earliest evidence of Muslim presence in France

It started in the Middle East around 1,400 years ago as small religious community but within a hundred years had spread across a vast empire.
Now the remains of three people discovered in medieval graves dating from the 8th Century have provided new clues as to just how far Islam spread in its early days.

Archaeologists have used genetic testing on three skeletons found in Nimes in the south of France to reveal they belonged to Muslims from North Africa.

Each of the bodies had been buried in a way that appeared to follow Islamic rites, with their bodies and heads orientated towards Mecca.

The DNA revealed their father's families had come from North Africa, which as the time would have been part of the huge Umayyad Islamic empire that emerged by that time.

While the Umayyad Empire is known to have spread as far as the south of Spain, the researchers say this is the first evidence of the Muslim faith in France during the early Middle Ages.

The region, known as Septmimania, had been part of the Visigothic Empire before being conquered by the Umayyads.
Writing in the journal Public Library of Sciences One, Yves Gleize, an archaeologist at the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research, and his colleagues said three skeletons may have been members of the Berbers tribes who were integrated into the Umayyad army.
They said: 'Our study provides the first archaeo-anthropological testimony of the Muslim establishment in South of France.

'Notably, the analyses confirm the Berber origin of some of the first Muslim troops spreading through Europe and also indicate the co-existence of communities in Nimes practicing Christian and Muslim funerary customs without any clear partition of their respective funerary spaces.
'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 three graves were discovered in a Medieval cemetery in the town of Nimes in an area of that had been the Roman quarter. They were found amidst 20 other graves.

However, unlike the others, the bodies appear to have been buried with a specific orientation so they were pointing towards Mecca, the most sacred site in the Islamic faith. The archaeologists say the bodies appear to have been wrapped before they had been buried in a pit closed off by stone slabs or stones

More: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0148583