Islamic art historians and archaeologists are calling into question a Swedish medieval textile expert’s claim that the word “Allah” has been found on a 10th century Viking funeral garment discovered in Sweden.
Annika Larsson, a textile archaeologist at the University of Uppsala, published an article on the Swedish university’s website announcing the discovery, and over the weekend a number of publications picked up the story, including the New York Times.
The story quickly went viral, largely because it seemed to counteract a far right-wing narrative that the Vikings represent a uniform Master Race. The march in Charlottesville most recently brought white nationalists’ appropriation of Nordic symbolism to national attention.
Stephennie Mulder, an associate professor of Medieval Islamic art and archaeology at the University of Texas, was among the first academics to question the findings publicly in a series of Tweets. Speaking to artnet News by phone, Mulder emphasized that she does not dispute that interaction between the Islamic world and the Vikings took place; rather it is this particular piece of evidence, and the way the story was reported by the media, that concerned her.
“The Vikings were traders and raiders who had extensive trade networks with the Arab world in central Asia up to [what is now] Iran,” Mulder said, “We’re used to seeing the Vikings as these brutal barbaric burners of monastery’s looking for gold, but actually they were savvy merchants and traders and moved things peacefully, like most people did in the Middle Ages.”