Nimes City, France : The religion of Islam in the Middle East started 1,400 years ago as a small religious community but within a hundred years it had spread across a vast empire, Mail Online reported.
Now the remains of three people discovered in medieval graves date back to 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 Makkah.
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.
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.
Using five bone fragments from the graves, the researchers used radiocarbon dating and found they were clustered between the 7th and 8th centuries AD.
The oldest Islamic graves discovered in France previously were thought to date 12 and 13th centuries AD.
The researchers said: ‘Despite the low number of Muslim graves discovered, 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 Nimes.
‘Moreover, the results we discuss demonstrate that a few years after their integration into the Muslim world, North African populations were interred according to Islamic customs.