London: French archaeologists have unearthed skeletons at a burial site in south France that provide a clinching evidence of the presence of Muslim communities in the country during the early medieval period.
Yves Gleize and Fanny Mendisco from the University of Bordeaux in France found that three graves at the burial site at Nimes city appear to follow Islamic rites, including the position of the body and the head orientation towards Islam's holy city of Mecca.
The discovery confirms their expansion north of the Pyrenees range of mountains which form a natural border between France and Spain.
"The joint archaeological, anthropological and genetic analysis of three early medieval graves at Nimes provides evidence of burials linked with Muslim occupation during the eighth century in south of France," Gleize said.
The team also found genetic evidence indicating their paternal lineage from North African ancestry. Radiocarbon dating showed that the skeletons were likely from the 7th-9th centuries.
In the study, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, Gleize and Mendisco propose that the skeletons from the Nimes burials belonged to Berbers integrated into the Umayyad army during the Arab expansion in North Africa in the eighth century.
Despite the low number of Muslim graves discovered, the authors believe that the findings provide some of the first archaeological and anthropological evidence for Muslim communities in south France.
The rapid Arab-Islamic conquest during the early medieval period led to major political and cultural changes in the Mediterranean.
The study assumes significance because the early medieval Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula is well documented but scientists have less evidence of the Muslim expansion north of the Pyrenees.
The early middle ages or early medieval period was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to the 10th century.