On the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Nimes in southern France, archaeologists have discovered the graves of three Muslim men that date back to the eighth century.

The finding, reported in PLOS One, suggests the early medieval presence of Muslims north of the Pyrenees was more complicated, and perhaps more welcome, than thought. The medieval history of Muslims in Spain and Portugal is well established, but information about the experience of Muslims in France during the same time period has been more difficult to find.

According to historical documents, around the year 719, Muslim troops from the Omayyad army crossed the eastern Pyrenees and occupied the region around Narbonne 530 miles south of modern-day Paris. But the occupation was short-lived. By 760, the Franks, who came from the north, took over the region known as Septimania.

Very little known is about these early invaders. Historians don’t even know if the occupiers were Arabs, Berbers or converts. And that’s why the three Muslim graves that date back to this time period are so valuable. “They could start to answer these questions,” said Yves Gleize, who studies archaeo-anthropology at the University of Bordeaux and was the lead author on the study.