A researcher at a Swedish university says that Viking burial clothes bear the word “Allah”—and some people really want to believe her.
Annika Larsson, a textile researcher at Uppsala University who was putting together an exhibit on Viking couture, decided to examine the contents of a Viking woman’s boat grave that had been excavated decades ago in Gamla Uppsala, Sweden. Inspecting the woman’s silk burial clothes, Larsson noticed small geometric designs. She compared them to similar designs on a silk band found in a 10th-century Viking grave, this one in Birka, Sweden. It was then that she came to the conclusion that the designs were actually Arabic characters—and that they spelled out the name of God in mirror-image. In a press release, she described the find as “staggering,” and major media outlets (including The New York Times, The Guardian, and the BBC) reported the story last week.
But other experts are not sure the silk bears Arabic script at all, never mind the word “Allah.” They warn that people being credulous of Larsson’s claim may be guided less by solid evidence than by a political motivation: the desire to stick it to white supremacists.
“Everybody wants a counter-narrative for the narrative that’s been put forward by white supremacists,” said Stephennie Mulder, an associate professor of Islamic art and architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. She was referring to the tendency of white supremacists to appropriate the symbols of Vikings, whom they claim constituted a pure-bred white race; in Charlottesville, for example, neo-Nazis were seen toting banners with Viking runes. The idea that Vikings were influenced by Muslims would likely be anathema to them. “The Vikings are every white supremacist’s favorite white guy.”