By now we’ve all heard of an announcement that a group at Uppsala University in Sweden found a Viking burial in which one dead Viking was wrapped in a cloth that was supposed to depict the word “Allah” in Arabic script (just Google “Viking burial Arabic”; one example is here.) Although a peer-reviewed publication of that finding hasn’t yet appeared, it would seem that the cloth, if actually worn on a buried Viking, couldn’t simply be trade goods, but must denote something numinous. Based on that, one of the Friendly Atheist‘s co-bloggers, David McAfee, wrote the following post (click on the screenshot to see the article), ripped from the pages of HuffPo.
Well, that’s what I call “jumping the gun”. First of all, there’s no evidence that the wearer was a Muslim. While there’s no doubt that Vikings had contact with the Muslim world, there’s no evidence beyond this garment—even if you take that as evidence of Arabic saying “Allah”—that any Vikings, much less the decedent—were Muslims. Further, the script, which is “square Kufic” rather than Arabic, appears to postdate the existence of the Vikings, so there’s a problem of the garment’s provenance. In fact, the find is deeply controversial, with some claiming that the script is based on an unwarranted extension of the existing pattern, not the pattern itself. Further, the word “Allah” is visible (if it does say “Allah”) only in a mirror reflection, and why is that? As the Guardian reports:
However the finding has been disputed. In a blog post, textile archaeologist Carolyn Priest-Dorman suggest, from analysis of the weaving technique in the clothes, that the recognition of the Kufic inscriptions is “predicated on unfounded extensions of pattern, not on [the] existing pattern.”
In addition, Stephennie Mulder, Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, has suggested that the Viking burial finds pre-date the development of the Islamic artistic style Larsson claims to have identified.
Mulder, who has real expertise in this area, has produced a whole string of tweets debunking this as a Muslim garment that reads “Allah”. Here is the first of 60 tweets she issued:
— Dr. Stephennie Mulder (@stephenniem) October 16, 2017
You can find all Mulder’s tweets (now up to 63) compiled in this thread. So far it looks like the association of this cloth with genuine Vikings is dubious, as the dates don’t comport, and one has to really stretch one’s mind to the point of confirmation bias to see the word “Allah.”
Now one might excuse the press for getting all worked up about this find, even though they didn’t check with the experts, because they love stuff like this. But it’s less excusable when a skeptic (and I assume McAfee is one, since he writes at Hemant’s site) falls for the same thing. And it’s still worse when you then claim that some Vikings were likely Muslims (note “likely”), and finally top off this dog’s breakfast with the cherry that it’s great because “white supremacists hate it.” His evidence for that is—wait for it—a couple of tweets.
Now it’s conceivable that if some Vikings were really Muslims it would anger white supremacists. But I don’t see why, since the Vikings would have to be more than just practicing Muslims to anger the alt-right: they’d have to be people of color—that is, genetic admixtures of Scandinavians and Middle Easterners. And I know of no evidence for that.
Well, we’ll see when the peer-reviewed article comes out, but it would behoove those at The Friendly Atheist to avoid this type of premature clickbait.