France's Earliest Ever Muslim Graves Discovered

103 France's Earliest Ever Muslim Graves Discovered
Two of the graves, showing the bodies lying on their right hand side. Gleize et al. 2016

The medieval history, including the invasion of the Islamic Umayyad army, of Spain and Portugal is well documented. Less is known, however, about what happened when the legion crossed the Pyrenees and occupied southern France, around the year 719 CE. Now, researchers have documented what they believe to be the earliest examples of Muslim graves ever found in France, in the southern city of Nimes. The three graves each contain bodies lying on their right-hand side, with their heads pointed towards Mecca, and have been found to date to around the eighth century.

As well as dating the bones, the scientists also conducted genetic analysis on the remains. They found that in all three men, the Y chromosome belonged to a type very commonly found in the Berbers of North Africa. In one of the men, the mitochondrial DNA – only inherited from mothers – also had a clear African heritage, but for the two others, it was a little murkier as the sequences are found in both Europe and Africa. The results from this genetic analysis, coupled with the age of the burials, seems to fit in nicely with the historic records.


These show how Berbers were integrated into the Umayyad army as it expanded throughout North Africa during the seventh and eighth centuries, before making the hop onto the Iberian Peninsula. From here, they spread throughout Spain and Portugal before pushing into southern France. “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 the south of France,” says Dr. Yves Gleize, who coauthored the paper published in PLOS ONE.

Interestingly, the three men – determined to have been in their 20s, 30s, and 50s when they died – were found buried in among other graves. As these seemingly Muslim buries were interred alongside Christian burials, the researchers suggest that the community in which the people lived must have been mixed and unsegregated.

Whether the Muslim men were living in a garrison for soldiers or were fully integrated into the community is impossible to tell, but the fact they the show no signs of dying in battle suggests that they were living peacefully in the region, at least during this period of time. That they have found only three graves significantly limits the scope of what can be deduced, but other archaeological evidence from Pamplona dating to around the same time shows evidence that women and children followed the invading army from Northern Africa.  

The researchers hope that this discovery should be able to give an insight into what was going on in this region during the brief Islamic occupation, as little other evidence has survived in southern France from this period. 


Image in text: The third burial is thought to be of a Muslim man in his 50s. Gleize et al. 2016


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  • France,

  • medieval,

  • North Africa,

  • Islam,

  • Berber