Medieval Islamic Art Expert Reveals The Truth Behind “Allah” On Viking Cloth

A medieval Islamic art expert has revealed the truth behind a piece of Viking cloth that many believed said “Allah” on it.

“Dear Entire World: #Viking ‘Allah’ textile actually doesn’t have Allah on it. Vikings had rich contacts w/Arab world. This textile? No.” wrote art expert and University of Texas-Austin associate professor Stephennie Mulder, contradicting the story put out by mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times and the BBC.  “Actually #Viking textile has no Arabic at all but story has gone viral @NYTimes @Guardian@BBCWorld @NatGeo @ScienceAlert have reported.”

“There is something very troubling here about relationship between news media & experts, who should have been consulted for verification,” Mulder continued. “It should go without saying that a single scholar’s un-peer-reviewed claim does not truth make. #medievaltwitter”

Explaining why the mainstream media’s claim was false Mulder wrote, “The issue is a serious problem of dating. #Birka #Viking textile is 10th c. Style of epigraphy in Larsson’s drawing is 500 years later… But let’s assume there are 10th c. Central Asian textiles with 2Kufic. Even so, it turns out Larsson’s drawing doesn’t say ‘Allah’…Instead the drawing says للله ‘lllah’, which basically makes no sense in Arabic.”

The initial media story came from Annika Larsson, a Swedish textile researcher at Uppsala University who was putting together an exhibit on Vikings and decided to look at the contents of a Viking woman’s boat grave that had been excavated decades ago in Gamla Uppsala, Sweden. Larsson noticed small geometric designs on the woman’s silk burial clothes and compared them to similar designs on a silk band found in a 10th-century Viking grave in Birka, Sweden. Larsson decided the designs were actually Arabic characters—and that they spelled out the name of God in mirror-image. In a press release, Larsson described the find as “staggering,” and major media outlets (including The New York TimesThe Guardian, and the BBC) breathlessly reported the story.

“Everybody wants a counter-narrative for the narrative that’s been put forward by white supremacists,” Stephennie Mulder told The Atlantic.

In their initial article, the NY Times did not cite a single expert besides Larsson, taking her word as fit to print with no effort whatsoever to corroborate her work with another expert.

Thread Reader   /  The Atlantic    /  NY Times